Tag Archives: professional

Cannabis M&A: Take Care of the Due Diligence Essentials

By Michael G. Lux
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As the regulated cannabis industry matures, M&A activity is expected to continue accelerating. Whether they are existing licensed businesses looking for acquisition opportunities or new investor groups seeking to enter or expand their positions in the industry, investors should recognize the special due diligence challenges associated with cannabis industry transactions.

Above all, investors should avoid the temptation to omit or short-circuit long-established due diligence practices, mistakenly believing that some of these steps might not be relevant to cannabis and hemp operations. Despite the unique nature of the industry, thorough and professional financial, tax and legal due diligence are essential to a successful acquisition.

Surging M&A activity

Over the past few years, as the cannabis industry matured and the regulatory environment evolved, M&A activity involving cannabis and hemp companies has undergone several cycles of expansion and contraction. Today, the expansion trend clearly has resumed. Although the exact numbers vary from one source to another, virtually all industry observers agree that 2021 saw a strong resurgence in cannabis-related M&A activity, with total transactions numbering in the hundreds and total deal values reaching into billions of dollars. Moreover, most analysts seem to agree that so far, the pace for 2022 is accelerating even more.

Today, many existing cannabis and hemp multistate operating companies are in an acquisitive mood as they look for opportunities to scale up their operations, enter new markets, and vertically integrate. At the same time, the projections for continued industry growth over the next decade have attracted a number of investment funds and private equity groups, which were formed specifically for the purpose of investing in cannabis and hemp businesses.

These two classes of investors often pursue distinctly different approaches to their transactions. Unlike the largely entrepreneurial cannabis industry pioneers now looking to expand, the more institutional investors are accustomed to working with professional advisers to perform financial, tax and legal due diligence as they would for a transaction in any other industry.

Among both groups, however, there is sometimes a tendency to misunderstand some of the transactional risk elements associated with cannabis M&A deals. In many instances, buyers who are generally sensitive to potential legal and regulatory risks will underestimate or overlook other risks they also should examine as part of a more conventional financial and tax due diligence effort.

For example, since much of the value of a licensed cannabis operation is the license itself, investors often rely largely on their own industry understanding and expertise to assess the merits of a proposed acquisition, based primarily on their estimation of the license’s value. This practice provides acquirers with a narrow and incomplete view of the deal’s overall value. More importantly, it also overlooks significant areas of risk.

Because cannabis acquisition targets typically are still quite new and have no consistent earning records, acquirers also sometimes eschew quality of earnings studies and other elements of conventional due diligence that are designed to assess the accuracy of historical earnings and the feasibility of future projections.

Such assumptions and oversights often can derail an otherwise promising transaction prior to closing, causing both the target and the acquirer to incur unnecessary costs and lost opportunities. What’s more, even if the deal is eventually consummated, short-circuiting the normal due diligence processes can expose buyers to significant unanticipated risk down the road.

Recurring issues in cannabis acquisitions

The most widely recognized risks in the industry stem from the conflict between federal law and the laws of various states that have legalized cannabis for medical or adult recreational use. The most prominent of these concerns relates to Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC 280E).

Although its use is now legal in many states, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. IRC 280E states that any trade or business trafficking in a controlled substance must pay income tax based on its gross income, rather than net income after deductions. As a result, cannabis businesses are not entitled to any of the common expense deductions or tax credits other businesses can claim.

The practical effect of this situation is that cannabis-related businesses – including growers, processors, shippers and retailers – often owe significant federal income tax even if they are not yet profitable. Everyone active in the industry is aware of the issue, of course, and any existing operating company or investment group will undoubtedly factor this risk into its assessment of a proposed acquisition target.

The challenge can be exacerbated, however, by other, less widely discussed factors that also affect many cannabis businesses. These issues further cloud the financial, tax and regulatory risk picture, making thorough and professional due diligence even more critical to a successful acquisition.

Several of these issues merit special attention:

  • Nonstandard accounting and financial reporting practices. As is often the case in relatively young, still-maturing businesses, acquisition targets in the cannabis industry might not have yet developed highly sophisticated accounting operations. It is not uncommon to encounter inadequate accounting department staffing along with financial reporting procedures that do not align with either generally accepted accounting principles or other standard practices. In many instances, company management is still preparing its own financial statements with minimal outside guidance or involvement by objective, third-party professionals. Significant turnover in the management team – and particularly in the chief financial officer position –is also common, as is a general view that accounting is a cost center rather than a value-enhancing part of the management structure.

Such conditions are not unusual in young businesses that are still largely entrepreneurial in spirit and practice. In the cannabis industry, however, this situation is also a reflection of many professional and business services firms’ longstanding reluctance to engage with cannabis operators – a hesitancy that still affects some organizations.

When customary business practices are not applied or are applied inconsistently, acquiring companies or investors should be prepared to devote more time and attention – not less – to conventional financial due diligence. The expertise of professional advisers with direct experience in the industry can be of immense benefit to all parties in this effort.

  • Restructuring events or nonrecurring items in financial statements. Restructuring events and nonrecurring items are relatively common in many new or fast-growing businesses, and they are especially prevalent among cannabis operations. In many instances, such companies have engaged in multiple restructuring events over a short period of time, often consolidating operations, taking on new debt, and incurring various one-time costs that are not directly related to the ongoing operations of the business.

The inclusion of various nonrecurring items within the historical financial statements can make it much more difficult for a buyer or investor to accurately identify and assess proforma operating results, especially in businesses that have not yet generated consistent profits. Here again, applying previous experience in clearing up the noise in the financial statements can help improve both the accuracy and timeliness of the due diligence effort.

  • Run-rate results inconsistent with historical earnings or losses. A company’s run rate – an extraction of current financial information as a predictor of future performance – is a widely used tool for creating performance estimates for companies that have been operating for short periods of time or that have only recently become profitable. In cannabis businesses, however, run-rate estimates sometimes can be unreliable or misleading.

Because it is based only on the most current data, the run rate often does not reflect significant past events that could skew projections or recent changes in the company’s fundamental business operations. Because such occurrences are relatively common in the industry, the results of run-rate calculations can be inconsistent with the target company’s historical record of earnings or losses.

  • Historical tax and structuring risks new owners must assume. Like many other new businesses, cannabis operations often face cash flow and financing challenges, which owners can address through alternative strategies such as debt financing, stock warrants, or preferred equity conversions. Such approaches can give rise to complex tax and financial reporting issues as tax authorities exercise their judgment in interpreting whether these items should be reported as liabilities or equity derivatives. The situation is often complicated further by various nonstandard business practices and the absence of sophisticated accounting capabilities, as noted earlier.

As a consequence, financial statements for many cannabis companies – including a number of publicly listed companies – often contain complex capital structures with numerous types of debt warrants, conversion factors and share ownership options. Although an acquisition would, in theory, clean up these complications, buyers nevertheless must factor in the risk of previous noncompliance that might still be hidden within the organization – a risk that can be identified and quantified only through competent and thorough due diligence.

Not as simple as it seems

On the surface, the fundamentals of the cannabis industry are relatively straightforward, which is one reason it appeals to both operators and investors. For example, participants at every stage of the cannabis business cycle – growing and harvesting, processing and packaging, shipping and distribution, and ultimately marketing and retailing – can readily apply well-established practices from their counterparts in more conventional product lines.

The major exception to this rule, of course, is the area of regulatory compliance, which is still shifting and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Outside of this obvious and significant exception, however, most other aspects of the industry are relatively predictable and manageable.

When viewed in this light and in light of the continued growth of the industry, it is easy to see why cannabis-related acquisitions are so appealing to existing business operators and outside investors alike. It is also easy to understand why buyers might feel pressure to move quickly to take advantage of promising opportunities in a fast-changing industry.

As attractive as such opportunities might be, however, buyers should take care to avoid shortcuts and resist the urge to sidestep established due diligence procedures that can reveal potential accounting and financial statement complications and the related compliance risks they create. The unique nature of the cannabis industry does not make these practices irrelevant or unnecessary. If anything, it makes professional financial, tax, and legal due diligence more important than ever.


Crowe Disclaimer: Qualified organizations only. Independence and regulatory restrictions may apply. Some firm services may not be available to all clients. Given the continued evolution and inconsistency of various state and federal cannabis-related laws, any company should seek competent legal advice relating to its involvement in the cannabis industry, including when considering a potential public offering as a cannabis-related company.

Ethan Zohn

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

By Aaron Green
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Ethan Zohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green: What makes Momenta products unique?

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

Green: What’s next for Momenta?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zohn: Thanks Aaron.

Social Responsibility and Supporting BIPOC in Cannabis: A Q&A with Ernest Toney, Founder of BIPOCANN

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The drug war has harmed communities of color since its inception. For decades and decades, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) have been nearly six times more likely to be arrested for drug use than White Americans, despite similar rates of use.

Over the years that legalized cannabis has proliferated across the country, the same trends of market consolidation have emerged in every state that has legalized the plant. BIPOC communities already impacted by the drug war have less access to capital and therefore less access to the cannabis industry. Cannabis market consolidation has always led to white people taking a greater market share while BIPOC communities are left behind.

The legal cannabis industry currently lacks representation of BIPOC executives, business owners, and professionals. Ernest Toney, former global marketing and partnerships manager at Marijuana Business Daily, wants to change that. He founded the BIPOC Cannabis Business Network – a membership community that is working to make the cannabis industry more accessible and profitable for BIPOC professionals and business owners.

BIPOCANN is a place to meet cannabis industry leaders, a place to exchange goods, services and ideas that promote BIPOC economic growth in cannabis, an innovation hub for unique voices and perspectives, and it’s all BIPOC-owned and managed.

In this interview, we sit down with Ernest Toney to hear about BIPOCANN and ask him some questions about what the future of the cannabis industry could look like.

Cannabis Industry Journal: Tell me about your background- how did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Ernest Toney: I grew up in Virginia and went to James Madison University where I studied kinesiology, and sports management in graduate school. That led me to pursue a career in sports administration, beginning as a sales and marketing director for a large YMCA in the southwest, followed by a stint as a sales consultant for the Arizona Diamondbacks in Major League Baseball. Immediately prior to joining the cannabis industry, I worked at USA Ultimate – the national governing body for the niche sport of ultimate (frisbee) in the United States. During that time, I managed and scaled adult programs and events across the country. A big part of my job required collaborating with national stakeholders and creating and enforcing policies to grow the sport by making it more accessible to diverse demographics. We also worked hard to increase the commercial visibility of the sport through mainstream media, including ESPN, with gender equity being a major focus area. It was cool because looking back, I learned a lot of things during that five-year period that is directly applicable to the work I’m doing to support the cannabis industry.

Ernest Toney, founder of BIPOCANN

But my interest in the cannabis industry became strong when I moved to Denver in 2011, a year before Amendment 64 passed. When Colorado became the first adult use cannabis market in the USA, it was an exciting time. I have always been curious about economics and how policies can impact people’s lives. I was interested in what was going to happen when the new market opened.

Early on, I followed the industry trends very closely. Living in downtown Denver, I saw firsthand the effects the cannabis industry was having on day-to-day life, like increased tourism, a housing market boom, a lot of new start-ups, dispensaries opening everywhere. It was just something I knew I wanted to learn more about.

Around 2016, I started making industry connections, but didn’t pursue opportunities until a few years later. Eventually, I was hired in 2018 by MJBizDaily to focus on new business initiatives. Some of my past successes with scaling programs, national and international event management, and community-building aligned with what they were looking for.

I started as the company’s first international marketing manager. In that role, I was responsible for driving marketing campaigns to increase the company’s global readership, event registrations, and business conference presence in foreign markets. After the first year, I transitioned to identify and manage marketing partnerships for the company – which included international and domestic media, event, and affiliate partnerships within and outside of cannabis.

I felt compelled to make a change amidst the social unrest this summer. I was doing my own protesting and volunteer advocacy in Denver, but started to see more broadly, in the cannabis industry, that cannabis executives and companies were bringing attention to the fact that the War On Drugs has been problematic for minorities and communities of color. There was greater talk about social equity programs and how they are not as effective as they should be. There was greater attention to the fact that over 40,000 people are still incarcerated for the plant that others are profiting from – and that the people behind bars are predominantly coming from communities of color. I was in a position that afforded me the opportunity to see what the composition of the global cannabis industry looked like, and I  could see minority representation was lacking in business ownership, leadership positions, and more.

I thought – what is the best way for me to use my talents, insights, and knowledge to affect and change this narrative? Ultimately, I decided to start my own business. Not only was this an opportunity for me to “walk the walk,” being a black man starting a business in this industry where there is a lack of black ownership, but more importantly I was uniquely positioned to be able to educate and let people know about the opportunities to be a part of the booming industry. So, I did some brainstorming and came up with a company, which is called BIPOCANN and it stands for connecting BIPOC communities to the cannabis industry.

The work I have been doing for the last quarter includes directly recruiting people into the industry. If you are curious and want to learn more about the industry, then BIPOCANN can be the entry point. We figure out what your goals are and use the network and our resources to get you connected and figure out where you want to go. Likewise, if you are a service provider, like a graphic designer, accountant, marketer or business owner for example, that sees opportunities for your business to play a role and support it from an ancillary standpoint, BIPOCANN can be an entry point for you too.

The other component to it is working with existing businesses who are trying to make the industry more accessible. I work with existing companies and brands to create platforms that amplify voices and make BIPOC folks more visible, seen and heard within the cannabis industry. We are also helping businesses increase their profitability through diversification tactics and marketing tactics that contribute to their bottom line.

CIJ: Tell me about BIPOCANN- what is it, what are your goals with this project and how has it been received so far?

Ernest: The prohibition of cannabis has disproportionately impacted communities of color in the Americas. I alluded to this earlier, but there are more than 40,000 people behind bars in the U.S. for cannabis possession and use. There’s evidence suggesting that Black Americans are up to six times more likely to get arrested for cannabis use than White Americans despite use rates being the same. And when you look at the makeup of the professional industry, there is poor representation of business ownership by people of color. The Cannabis Impact Fund references that only 4.3% of dispensaries are Black or Latinx-owned. These problems intersect in a lot of ways.

BIPOCANN is a small business working to make the cannabis industry more accessible and profitable for BIPOC professionals and business owners. Now, I know that one company cannot change 100 years of cannabis prohibition and how policy works. But if you want to make this industry more accessible, inclusive, and profitable for those who do not have the access then there are a lot of levers to pull. Policy is one. But BIPOCANN is using more direct strategies. We actively recruit people to come in and be a part of this industry, through employment, entrepreneurship, consulting, and collaborations.

We have also created the BIPOC Cannabis Business Network, a community where members can exchange services, network, and collaborate. It’s all about creating more opportunities for BIPOC professionals and business owners, and it’s a safe space to share your experiences and to ideate. Similar to your Cannabis Quality Virtual Conference, where there was a dedicated space for BIPOC folks to be seen and heard and tell their story through your virtual panels, we use our resources and network to help advocates for equity and access be seen, heard, and find opportunities to thrive as a business owner or professional.

CIJ: How do you hope BIPOCANN will be embraced by the cannabis community?

Ernest: I think it has been received well in its first quarter of business. We have had opportunities to share our story across a lot of platforms, including multiple cannabis industry conferences, podcasts, and interviews with varied media outlets. We are in startup mode, so currently we are about building a brand, being seen, and helping people understand what we are trying to achieve. We are working towards that right now. We have had some success and folks are supporting our vision and goals.

I am hoping the cannabis industry will look at BIPOCANN as another important resource within the social equity, business development, and networking landscape. I don’t want to be seen as a competitor to the organizations and individuals who have been doing similar work in this space, for much longer, but as an ally. Some of our approaches to bring new people into the industry will include strategically aligning communities and markets where we have strong ties – such as state governments, national nonprofits, and global cannabis networks.

CIJ: Where do you see the cannabis industry making progress with respect to diversity and including people of color?

Ernest: When I look at the types of conversations  and coverage the industry is having, even compared to last year, it seems like more conferences, media entities, brands, and individual leaders are tuned in and trying to figure out how they can contribute to making this industry better, more equitable and more accessible. I am seeing a lot of more attention, attempts to understand where the gaps are and what to do about it.

When I take a step back to think of all the virtual conferences that have made dedicated conference tracks or even entire programs – like the National Association of Cannabis Business’ Social Equity Conference, the Emerge Canna Conference, the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium, and the Cannabis Industry Journal’s post-election social justice panel – or weekly segments from Black leaders like Dasheeda Dawson (She Blaze) and Tahir Johnson (The Cannabis Diversity Report) — those are good signs. They are creating opportunities for voices representing underserved communities in cannabis to share their perspectives and be advocates for change.

But there is still much to do and that includes greater education about the realities, histories, and challenges BIPOC and other minority communities are facing. Going back to the NACB, they recently drafted a social equity standard for state legislatures to use as a baseline for crafting policies and provisions for social equity programs. That and resources from organizations like the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Supernova Women, Cannaclusive, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, and the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, for example are some useful resources for the industry.

Wana Brands is also continuing to do good work, and it was exciting to see them become the first sponsor of the inaugural Black CannaConference by the Black CannaBusiness Magazine. That was a great example of an industry leader using their dollars, marketing resources, and company values to support an event specifically dedicated to creating, developing, and enhancing Black entrepreneurs and businesses in the cannabis industry.

“It is hard to know what even a year from now will look like.”On the policy front, we just saw on election day cannabis having a ton of success at the polls, passing in every single state where there was a ballot measure.

Arizona did a good job with having social equity provisions directly included in the language on their ballot measure. I think for the states that have yet to draft a social equity program, they can look at what has worked well in some other states and also look at what has not worked well, like loopholes that invite predatory behaviors.

I’m excited to see that Governor Ralph Northam and the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Working Group are already identifying the best ways to make a recreational market a beneficial and sustainable one, and tackling how to incorporate social equity, racial equity, and economic equity into a future legalization bill. I am looking forward to learning more after an upcoming meeting with a Working Group member. Eventually, I hope to contribute towards any social equity efforts that will benefit my home state and hometown (a high poverty community that has been at the crossroads of America’s major civil rights movements, with a correctional facility that houses an inmate population equivalent to nearly 10% of the town population).

CIJ: Where do you see the industry moving in the next five years?

Ernest: Ha-ha! It is hard to know what even a year from now will look like.

Just this week the United Nations rescheduled cannabis, which is a big deal! We also saw the U.S. House of Representatives pass the MORE Act. We are inching closer towards federal legalization in the US and I think it will happen within that five-year timeframe, and it will be contentious. There will be compromises on things some folks don’t want compromises on, there will be more big money influencing the outcomes of the industry, and there will be unforeseen or unintended consequences to whatever the federal legislation looks like. I recently moderated a panel of social equity license holders, who felt that federal legalization would harm the disproportionately impacted areas (by the War on Drugs) even more! Their preference was to see cannabis de-scheduled and remain under state control.

I think federal legalization will bring another wave of major mergers and acquisitions, similar to what the Canadian market experienced in 2019, benefiting big business over small business. “We need folks who are educated and informed about these matters to be at the policymaking level to have a fighting chance.”

CIJ: Do you think we can change that?

Ernest: There are so many things at play. The legislators need to have diverse perspectives and representation from the folks in the industry, especially people of color who can speak to the impact that a century of prohibition policies have had on their communities. Those voices and stories need to be heard, but that type of representation is grossly lacking on Capitol Hill…which is all the more reason we need leaders from the aforementioned communities to have a seat at the table when decisions are made.

I say that because a lot of time there are unforeseen consequences when policies are created, so decision makers at the federal level can learn from those of us already doing the work on the local level. I recently had a conversation with a former journalist and colleague who is currently in a cannabis regulatory role. We were talking about how policy and operations intersect with social equity. He made the points that “many markets implement license caps, which are intended to prevent oversaturation of cannabis business (the idea being that density of outlets impacts use rates, and particularly youth use rates); in theory, that’s a good policy – but it comes with very real consequences for social equity applicants (because those licenses often go to the wealthiest applicants).  License caps also artificially inflate the cost of those licenses (for a transfer of ownership), which also harms social equity applicants. Lotteries are also generally the result of policy and usually have disastrous results for the social equity applicant.”

So yeah – the rare opportunity to define a new industry that doesn’t just do business as usual, that can right its historical wrongs, and that will reward the communities that have been most harmed by cannabis enforcement, is now. And we need folks who are educated and informed about these matters to be at the policymaking level to have a fighting chance. The optimist in me says “we can do it!” The pessimist in me reminds me that it is 2020 and people still believe the Earth is flat. I’ll keep pushing for change, but I also won’t be surprised if this perfect opportunity to get it right goes wrong.

CIJ: How can people get involved in BIPOCANN?

Ernest: The best way to get involved is to visit www.bipocann.com and support our efforts by becoming an individual member or business member. Not only does that give you the opportunity to connect directly with other members in our business network, but it gives you the chance to be the first to be notified about the latest projects, events, and opportunities we’re working on to change the industry, how we can. By joining, you also directly support BIPOCANN’s goals, contribute to the operating budget of a black-owned business in cannabis, and support the nonprofit partners who we allocate a percentage of monthly sales towards.

You can also get involved by subscribing to our monthly newsletter through the website or by following our social media accounts @bipocann. We are also available for speaking, media, or consulting projects that support social equity, diversity, and inclusion in cannabis. For those types of inquiries, please contact ernest@bipocann.com.

Product Safety Hazards: Looking Beyond Food Safety in Cannabis

By Radojka Barycki
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I think that we need to start changing the terminology around the hazards associated with cannabis from food safety hazards to product safety hazards. These hazards have not only been associated with harmful effects for those that ingest cannabis infused products, but also for those that consume the cannabis products in other ways such as inhalation (vaping or smoking). So, when we refer to these hazards as food safety hazards, the immediate thought is edibles, which misleads cultivators, manufacturers and consumers to have a false sense of security around the safety of products that are consumed in other ways.

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

There are several product safety hazards that have been associated with cannabis. These hazards can become a public health problem if not controlled as they could harm the consumer, regardless of the method of consumption.

Let’s take a look at the different types of hazards associated cannabis:

Biological Hazards refer to those microorganisms that can cause illness to the consumer of a product that contain them. They are not visible to the naked eye and are very dangerous when their metabolic by-products (toxins) are ingested or their spores are inhaled. The symptoms for illnesses caused by these microorganisms will vary. Consumers may experience gastrointestinal discomfort (vomiting, diarrhea), headaches, fever and other symptoms. The ingestion of these pathogens, allergens or their by-products may lead to death, if the illness is not treated on time or if the consumer of the product is immunocompromised. In addition, the inhalation of mold spores when smoking cannabis products, can lead to lung disease and death. Some of the biological hazards associated with cannabis are: Salmonella sp., E. coli, Clostridium botulinum, Aspergillus sp. and Penicillium sp.

Chemical Hazards refer to those chemicals that can be present in the plant or finished product due to human applications (pesticides), operational processes (extraction solvents and cleaning chemicals), soil properties (heavy metals), environmental contamination (radiological chemicals) or as a result of occurring naturally (mycotoxins and allergens). Consuming high concentrations of cleaning chemicals in a product can lead to a wide range of symptoms from mild rash, burning sensation in the oral-respiratory system, gastrointestinal discomfort or death. In addition, long term exposure to chemicals such as pesticides, heavy metals, radiological contaminants and mycotoxins may lead to the development of cancers.

Physical Hazards refer to those foreign materials that may be present in the plant or finished product. Foreign materials such as rocks, plastics or metals can cause harm to the consumer by chipping teeth or laceration of the mouth membranes (lips, inner cheeks, tong, esophagus, etc.) In the worst-case scenario, physical hazards may lead to choking, which can cause death due to asphyxiation.

These hazards can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level when foundational programs (Good Agricultural/Cultivation Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, Allergen Management Program, Pest Control, etc.) are combined with a Food [Product] Safety Plan. These lead to a Food [Product] Safety Management System that is designed to keep consumers safe, regardless of the method of consumption.

How Cannabis Businesses Can Prepare for Tax Season

By Melissa Diaz
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A Little About 280E

The 280E statute bans businesses from deducting business expenses for gross income associated with the trafficking of Schedule I or II substances. While other businesses can deduct any number of expenses when filing their taxes — employee salaries, rent, equipment, electricity, etc. — 280E limits cannabis companies to only expensing deductions directly related to earning a profit, or the cost of goods sold (COGs).

For example, a dispensary whose square footage is split between 60% sales floor and 40% lobby may only deduct 60% of rent expenses because that’s the portion dedicated to COGs. Transactions do not occur in the lobby, so that portion of the rent is not deductible.

Image: Flickr

So long as cannabis remains a Schedule I substance, companies that produce, sell and otherwise touch the plant in their operations must comply with 280E.

Tips for Tax Success

While taxes can be complex and stressful for cannabis businesses, it is possible to limit the headaches. With tax season right around the corner, here are a handful of tips to ensure a successful filing.

  • Close Out Your Books. Before tax preparation can even start, cannabis businesses want to make sure to close out their financials for the previous year. It may sound like a no-brainer, but with the extra scrutiny facing companies in the industry and the nuances of 280E, it’s extremely important to have fully reconciled and closed-out books to work from when preparing taxes. Incomplete books can cause delays and add unnecessary extra stressors to the process that could result in penalties or additional liabilities.
  • Consult a Cannabis Tax Professional. Once books are ready to go, it’s time to consult a tax professional who has experience in the cannabis industry. A cannabis-focused tax pro will be familiar with the intricacies of 280E and and will be able to identify relevant business expenses to ensure compliance and limit liabilities. In addition to 280E issues, a competent accountant will also be able to highlight any other tax code changes that may impact a business. Every business is different — even in the cannabis industry — and since the tax code is large, complex and prone to new rules and interpretations, it’s important to have a strong accountant guiding the way.
  • Justify Your Numbers. After consulting with a tax professional and identifying relevant business expenses, it’s time to back up the numbers. This is where strong record-keeping comes into play. Ongoing regulatory hurdles limit cannabis firms’ ability to participate in the financial system where, generally, record creation is inherent with each transaction. But in a cash-heavy industry like cannabis, record creation and retention fall on the businesses themselves. This is because cash transactions don’t come with any built-in records. That inherent lack of documentation is yet another potential pitfall for cannabis businesses and taxes since large amounts of cash often raise eyebrows at the IRS. It is up to businesses to provide adequate proof of their tax numbers. Since the IRS will put zero effort into investigating the accuracy of your numbers, it will likely assume the worst when reviewing your filing.

Preparation is King

Taxes can be stressful. But they don’t have to be. Navigating tax season as a cannabis business is all about preparation. By putting in the work and partnering with an experienced tax professional, cannabis operators will be able to avoid penalties, limit their audit risk and stay on track with their business goals.

The Women in Cannabis Study: A Q&A with Jennifer Whetzel

By Aaron G. Biros
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Ladyjane Branding and Wolfe Research & Consulting are leading an ambitious study to explore and document the experiences of women working in the cannabis market. Women in Cannabis: A Living History officially kicks off on December 10th at the National Women of Cannabis Conference.

Jennifer Whetzel, founder of LadyJane Branding and founder of the Women in Cannabis Study

Jennifer Whetzel, founder of Ladyjane Branding, says this is an opportunity for women to tell their stories about their experience working in the cannabis industry. Women can participate in the study by going to womenincannabis.study and sign up to take the survey. You can also sign up to be a sponsor or partner of the study at that website. Sponsors will get access to content like press releases and the opportunity to incorporate the study’s findings in their messaging. We invite our readers to participate, sponsor, partner, share and encourage friends to take the survey.

With beta testing starting the week of November 18th, we caught up with Jennifer Whetzel to talk about why she decided to start this project, what they expect to learn from it and what the future may hold for professional women in the cannabis industry.

Cannabis Industry Journal: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came into the cannabis industry? 

Jennifer Whetzel: My entrance into the cannabis industry was certainly a culmination of my personal experience and professional journey.

After moving to Maine, I became a medical user to ease symptoms of an immune and an auto-immune disorder. When I sought out treatment for PTSD, I found that a combination of cannabis, therapy, meditation and brain retraining was the most helpful and healthy solution.

This course of treatment for PTSD was life-changing as it allowed me to resolve symptoms from all of my medical issues, and I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that supported me. I had been working in marketing for over 25 years and realized I had quite the diverse professional background. My experience included retail merchandising and operations, public relations on a military base, research design and strategy for ad agencies, new product development and launch for animal health companies, and experiential marketing strategy and design. I’ve been lucky enough to work with small companies and Fortune 500’s which has led to finding solutions in unexpected places.

When pairing my knowledge and skills with the cannabis community, I realized I could make an impact by advising new entrepreneurs who needed help making their brands stand out. That’s how Ladyjane Branding was born.

CIJ: Can you give us an overview of the Women in Cannabis Study?

Jennifer: The Women in Cannabis study aims to understand how women are faring in the cannabis industry and whether we are doing enough to support women, their careers and their professional goals. It’s well documented that women in corporate America do not have the same opportunities for career advancement as men, holding fewer executive or board positions, having fewer opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship and career progression.

The study is comprehensive, with more than 80 quantitative questions along with qualitative telephone and video interviews of female-identifying professionals working in the cannabis industry – whether they are involved with cannabis, CBD or hemp. Through monthly infographics, video summaries, quarterly in-depth themed reports and a comprehensive year-end report, we will be telling the stories of women’s professional experiences in cannabis with the goal of transforming the industry into one where women can succeed and thrive.

Painting a picture of the women in cannabis, and understanding them as a group, we look at demographics to explore their diversity and reveal whether personality differences may affect their experiences, as well as experience with stigmas regarding cannabis use and working in the industry.

To understand professional trajectories and roadblocks on a path to success, we dive into work history, reasons for entering the cannabis space and the barriers they have faced on their journey. We explore opportunities for mentorship, support and leadership, the types of harassment, discrimination and disrespect they’ve experienced and how that may have impeded their careers.

We’d like to understand how (or whether) women find balance in their personal and professional lives, what sacrifices they’ve had to make for a career in cannabis, as well as best practices for women to foster success.

CIJ: Why did you decide to take on this endeavor and lead the work on this study? 

Jennifer: While there are numerous studies looking at how women fare in corporate America, we found that there’s a lack of a recent and comprehensive deep dive into this topic specifically for cannabis. As an emerging industry, we have a unique opportunity to make valuable recommendations to potentially increase inclusivity for women in this early stage of industry culture before it becomes too entrenched. Our goal is to ensure we have the hard numbers to document a baseline now, then follow-up over time to understand how the industry changes.

By surveying and speaking to women in the industry, and understanding where strengths and weaknesses in the industry lie, we can make recommendations to improve the lived experience for women working in this industry.

The only way to make improvements to a system is to understand it.

CIJ: How do you think we can create a more inclusive industry?

Jennifer: I think it begins with an understanding of where we are starting – we don’t know what we don’t know. Being in the cannabis industry, we often hear the argument that anecdotes are not data. Just like we need the scientific data to prove efficacy for medicine, we need the data that shows the hard numbers about diversity and inclusion, the stigma and shame of cannabis use or working in this industry, about sexual harassment, disrespect and bullying.

This study is about generating information and creating knowledge on this issue so we can determine the education, policies, procedures and actionable recommendations that can help make the industry a welcoming space for everyone.

One of the best ways to create a more inclusive industry is through education.

CIJ: What hurdles do women face in the cannabis industry? How is that different from other, more established industries?

Jennifer: As we review research results from more established industries, it seems clear that women face similar hurdles in cannabis. Various studies have shown that working women are faced with unequal pay, fewer opportunities for mentorship or sponsorship, as well as discrimination and disrespect. The issues for female entrepreneurs are even greater as women are significantly less likely to receive venture capital funding, which certainly speaks to experience in the cannabis industry.

Because there’s little data specifically focused on the cannabis industry, we are just guessing. This study will provide us those answers.

CIJ: Looking ahead, how do you think women will fare in the evolution of the cannabis market?

Jennifer: I’d like to think that if we are all purposeful and intentional about creating an equitable, inclusive, and representational industry, that women will fare significantly better than they have in other industries typically dominated by men. If that can happen, everyone will feel welcome and respected, and it will no longer be surprising news when a woman is promoted to CEO or becomes a successful founder.

Dr. Richard Kaufman
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Replacing Opiates with Cannabis is Finally Becoming a Reality: Where do we go from Here?

By Dr. Richard Kaufman
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Dr. Richard Kaufman

Opiate abuse is a far-reaching international public health issue, impacting tens of thousands of people every year in the United States alone. As the epidemic continues to spread, the medical community is faced with the immense task of researching and developing safer, non-addictive treatment alternatives for patients of chronic pain and other ailments. The controversial and oft-debated notion of cannabis as an opiate alternative has become increasingly well-researched and gained considerable credibility in recent years. The new challenge lies in advancing the cannabis industry to the point of being a legitimate medicine that can be prescribed and administered by doctors.

Opioids are among the most commonly prescribed medical treatments for severe chronic pain, yet prescription opioid overdoses killed more than 165,000 Americans between 1999 and 2014 according to the Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, the health and social costs of opioids are estimated to be as much as $55 billion a year. As such, it has become more imperative than ever that mainstream medical practitioners take notice of the cannabis plant’s powerful healing properties and shift away from potentially harmful pharmaceutical medications.

Dr. Richard Kaufman
Dr. Richard Kaufman, co-founder and chief science officer of Nanosphere Health Sciences.

The evidence of cannabis’ safety and efficacy is well established. For instance, in a literature review of 38 studies evaluating medical cannabis’ efficacy for treating pain, 71 percent concluded that cannabinoids had empirically demonstrable and statistically significant pain-relieving effects. In addition, a 2015 meta-analysis of 79 studies found a 30 percent or greater reduction of pain with the use of cannabinoids compared to placebos. Further, an analysis of a decade of randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials on cannabis for treating pain concluded that cannabis should be a first line treatment for patients with painful neuropathy and other serious and debilitating symptoms, who often do not respond to other available medications.

Not only is cannabis demonstrably safe and effective, but numerous studies also present compelling evidence that the prescription of opiates has dropped sharply in U.S. states and countries that have legalized medical cannabis. For example, a study in the Clinical Journal of Pain followed 176 chronic pain patients in Israel over seven months. Researchers found that 44 percent of participants stopped taking prescription opioids within seven months after starting medical cannabis. Patients cited the following reasons for using cannabis instead of pharmaceutical drugs: 65 percent reported less adverse side effects, 57 percent cited better symptom management and 34 percent found that cannabis had less withdrawal potential than their other medications.The evidence of cannabis’ safety and efficacy is well established.

The tide is quickly turning as many respected doctors are beginning to advocate for the tremendous medical potential of cannabis as a replacement for prescription pills. That said, if the cannabis industry is to help solve the crisis inflicted by modern pharmaceutical painkillers, we must develop next-generation scientifically formulated products and advocate to improve their accessibility.

Inhalation and oral methods of cannabis consumption have no reliable dosage as medicine, rendering them unfit for administration by health professionals. These mainstream consumption methods also have extremely low bioavailability and bioactivity. Bioavailability for ingested cannabis products is only 6 percent and for inhalation methods can be as low as 2 percent. Oral absorption of THC is slow and unpredictable, with peak blood concentration occurring 1–5 hours post dose. Similarly, inhalation methods can take up to two hours to have any effect. The next phase of the medical cannabis industry must focus on fixing problems that prevent cannabis from being a universally recognized health tool. Fortunately, scientists are making major advancements in cannabis delivery technologies, offering novel and innovative administration methods that have proven both effective and reliable.

With products like Evolve’s NanoSerum™ representing a promising solution to help reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with prescription opioid use and abuse, meaningful progress is already underway. It’s been a long and challenging road to arrive at this point, but our efforts are only just beginning. Achieving long-term change on a national and international scale will require professionals from all levels of the cannabis, science and medical communities to push for advanced product offerings that provide consistent, standardized dosing in healthier, smokeless modes of delivery.

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Medical Cannabis & The Vernacular Of Maturity

By RJ Starr
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Marijuana. Mary Jane. Pot. Reefer. Ganja. Weed. Joint. Grass.

The variety of terms used to describe cannabis are as diverse as the potentials of the plant itself – as well as the opinions of its proper nomenclature. A quick web search came up with a number of articles about how we should refer to cannabis, and opinions can be just as annoying and stinging as mosquitoes in the Everglades at the peak of season. Each of these words has an origin with which, having all the facts, you might not choose to align yourself. Words matter, and whether born from racism, xenophobia, or just plain ignorance, one will never go wrong following one simple piece of advice: “Never use a word or a phrase unless you know its meaning.” That said, it is not my intention here to add another opinion, but rather to present the topic from a different vantage. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not it is worth your while to learn what you are saying, and in so doing, empower yourself to consider your audience as you consider your slang, just as you would with any other word.

The legalized cannabis industry has opened a plethora of professional opportunities. Thoughtfully considered, these opportunities can lead to new heights of professional accomplishment and financial earning capability. For those with the good fortune to have such opportunity in legalized cannabis, congratulations! You are a member of a very small group of pioneers who have the potential to shape an entire industry (remember that what Henry Ford did by creating the assembly line brought benefit, not just to the automotive industry, but to all industry.)

In this industry we are not just creating medical cannabis dispensaries, cultivation and processing facilities, we are creating new ideas and platforms for compliance, security, financial planning, quality assurance, botany, agriculture, sustainability, packaging, retail, inventory control, human capital – the list is as endless as the imagination – with the potential to influence capacity in every aspect of all types of industry, around the world. In the course of your career as a cannabis professional you will have a chance to interact with legal and healthcare professionals, legislators, regulators and investors. You may attend high profile events, hobnob with those who inspire social change and exchange dialog with thought leaders from all walks of life. As you represent your particular cannabis company, you will recognize that you also represent yourself, and in that very recognition will your thoughtfully chosen vernacular reveal your personal level of professionalism, eloquence and dignity; and irrespective of what, or from whom, any opinion originates, these core values are irreplaceable. Simply put, adults speak like adults.

A colleague reflected that we are not winning a long and drawn out struggle to divest ourselves from outdated prohibitions against the use of medical cannabis because of the words we are using, but because of education. While I agree with that assessment, the use of slang in professional discourse has a tendency to discredit the speaker and narrow the audience receptive to his message. As the scientific community and cannabis industry continues to re-educate society, our efforts will be bolstered by reaching as broad an audience as possible. Education presented professionally, eloquently, and with maturity engenders respect, goodwill and understanding. And that makes for fertile ground upon which to plant new ideas.