According to a press release emailed this week, ASTM International’s subcommittee focused on cannabis, D37, is in the midst of developing two new standards surrounding cannabis safety and education.
One standard, WK84667, is designed to “help document engineering controls for air filtration and person protective equipment (PPE) in cannabis processing facilities,” says ASTM member Trevor Morones. The premise of this standard appears to be employee safety; with proper, standardized air filtration and PPE, the standard will help companies keep their workers safe and prevent inhalation of potentially harmful particles, like cannabis dust, stalk fiber, florescence and crystalized dust. “We are working to develop a robust community of cannabis professionals who can share their experiences in workplace and personnel safety,” says Morones.
The other proposed standard, WK84589, seeks to develop a uniform metric for “determining the intoxication level of a cannabinoid.” Initially focusing on delta9-THC, the standard will help raise awareness and promote public health and safety by informing consumers how intoxicating a cannabis product is for the average adult.
ASTM Pamela Epstein says this standard will hopefully develop a form of measurement akin to ABV in alcoholic drinks, allowing consumers to see how potent a certain cannabis product is. “Beyond providing consumers with a complete assessment of a product’s total intoxicating/impairing effects, the proposed standard may provide regulators with a methodology to meaningfully account for public health and safety,” says Epstein. “The specification can unify consumer awareness and can be used across all product types and jurisdictions.”
Business often require outside capital to finance operating activities and to enable scaling and growth. Financing in the cannabis industry is notoriously challenging with regulatory obstacles at the local, state and federal levels. Recent market dynamics pose additional challenges for both financiers and cannabis operators.
We sat down with Len Tannenbaum, CEO & Partner of Advanced Flower Capital Gamma (AFC Gamma, NASDAQ: AFCG) to learn more about AFC Gamma and to get his perspective on recent market trends.
Aaron Green: In a nutshell, what is your investment/lending philosophy?
Len Tannenbaum: AFC Gamma is one of the largest providers of institutional loans to cannabis companies nationwide in all aspects of production: cultivation, processing, and distribution. Cannabis companies, no matter the size, traditionally lack the lending opportunities that other enterprises have available, and that’s where AFC Gamma comes in. As an institutional lender, we provide financial solutions to the cannabis industry.
AFC Gamma is a commercial mortgage REIT that provides loans to companies secured by three pillars: cash flows, licenses, and real estate. We provide term loans, draw facilities, and construction loans. Each loan is unique and tailored specifically to meet the needs of our borrowers. This unique partnership approach with our clients allows us to find solutions to help them expand and grow alongside them.
Since starting AFC Gamma, we have completed almost $500 million of transactions. We provide capital to an industry that others do not and, in turn, allow these operators to build cultivation facilities, production facilities, and dispensaries.
Green: What types of companies are you primarily financing?
Tannenbaum: AFC Gamma seeks to work with operators, ideally in limited license states. We make loans to companies secured by three pillars: cash flows, licenses, and real estate. We tend to lend to operators in regulatory-friendly states, such as: Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, and Nevada. Traditionally, we shy away from states like California, Washington and Oregon given our approach to lending. We have 16 borrowers in 17 states, and what we look for are companies that we can grow with over the long term.
Green: What qualities do you look for in a cannabis industry operator or operating group?
Tannenbaum: We tend to work with three different buckets of operators. You have the large publicly traded multi-state operators (MSOs) we have lent to, such as Verano. Then you have the tier right below the top tier MSOs, where you have some public enterprises like Acreage, who is one of our borrowers, and then some private companies such as Nature’s Medicine and Justice Grown. The third tier are smaller operators. They’re single or two-state operators, and we’re typically coming in to help them build out licenses that they want or help them expand within that state. That’s why state-by-state dynamics are so important to us and why we typically only lend to limited license states.
We look at portfolio diversity on a step-by-step basis rather than a borrower-by-borrower basis. We tend to focus on deals in limited license states and also deals that have real estate as collateral. We have found that REIT loans give our clients the most flexibility, and we are able to finance more companies this way.
Green: Capital market dynamics have led to significant public cannabis company revaluations in 2022. How has this affected your business?
Tannenbaum: Although capital market dynamics have made an impact on a significant number of public cannabis companies’ revaluations this year, our overall business hasn’t been affected too much and that’s because the other lending options available right now are not ideal choices for most borrowers. One of the ways a lender can achieve credit enhancements or securities is by raising capital in the public markets. When the markets are more challenging, those companies have a harder time accessing capital when they may need it most. In turn, this could cause slow growth overall, more cash conservation and it removes one of the benefits to lenders. We’d like everyone to have more robust equity from that standpoint, but the flip side is, if equity gets too high in price, those borrowers won’t come to us lenders and they’ll raise capital in the equity markets since the equity is cheap. We’re definitely conducting a lot of business because the equity market is not available to cannabis companies. If that were to change, while our loans would be theoretically safer, they would choose equity instead of debt.
Green: Debt on cannabis companies balance sheets have increased significantly in recent years. What is your perspective on that?
Tannenbaum: When equity markets were free and the valuations were high, cannabis companies raised money in the equity markets rather than take on debt. Now that the equity markets have been somewhat closed and valuations are much lower, we see their debt has increased over the past two years.
Green: How does the lack of institutional investor participation in the cannabis industry affect your business?
Tannenbaum: Right now, we are one of the biggest lenders in cannabis. Looking to the future, though, if the SAFE Banking Act passes, we could see an influx of institutional capital that would increase competition amongst cannabis-specific and mainstream lenders. From the outset, most of the competition will come from hedge funds, not big banks. This competition will drive down interest rates and attract borrowers like MSOs.
Green: What would you like to see in either state or federal legalization?
Tannenbaum: The Senate passing the SAFE Banking Act. Should this happen, lenders, including AFC Gamma, will be able to borrow cheaper, which will, in turn, allow lenders to lend cheaper. It will be a net positive for all operators. It could also be positive for lenders assuming they have the infrastructure and capabilities to scale and decrease the cost of capital once the money starts flowing and more deals are being made.
Green: What trends are you following closely as we head towards the end of 2022?
Tannenbaum: The most important trend we’re following is state by state trends. We’re excited to see new states getting their act together like New York. We’re excited about Georgia. We’re also looking forward to Missouri going rec. On the flip side, we’re also watching Virginia issue more than 400 licenses, diluting down the limited license states into basically an unlimited license state, which personally doesn’t make sense.
The other trend we’re watching across the country is cannabis prices. There is definitely a gray and legacy market that goes across border that should be enforced. That flow of cannabis product is depressing prices, especially in the unlimited license states. I believe there is a chance that trend starts reversing as many grows are now inefficient. The low end of inefficient grows are going to start closing, which may increase prices going into next year.
Just over a month ago, a handful of dispensaries in New Jersey began selling cannabis to adults over the age of 21. The state issued licenses for adult use sales to seven alternative treatment centers (ATCs), otherwise known as medical cannabis businesses already established in the state. In total, thirteen dispensaries in the state started selling cannabis to adults over 21.
The seven companies awarded adult use licenses were Ascend, Curaleaf, GTI, Acreage, Verano, Columbia Care and TerrAscend. The state’s roll out created a lot of controversy over allowing already established, larger medical cannabis businesses and multi state operators to begin adult use sales before smaller businesses and social equity applicants get licensed.
Earlier this week, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) held a public meeting where regulators discussed progress, sales totals so far, conditional license applications and more. According to the meeting notes, between April 21 and May 21, retailers in New Jersey did $24,201,875 in cannabis sales with 212,433 transactions. During the meeting, regulators considered 46 conditional license applications and four testing lab license applications.
According to NJ.com, six new dispensaries were awarded licenses to begin adult use sales. Of the six new retail locations, Curaleaf opened their Edgewater location to adult use customers and Ayr Wellness received approval to begin adult use sales at all three of their medical locations in Eatontown, Union and Woodbridge. Ascend and TerrAscend also received approval to begin adult use sales act their locations in Montclair and Lodi, respectively.
About two weeks ago, the CRC testified before the state’s Senate Judiciary Meeting to share progress on the legal cannabis market, just over a year after the CRC was established. Jeff Brown, executive director of the CRC, discussed the agency’s goals and some challenges ahead of them. Brown says the CRC will be focusing on additional rules for adult use, modernizing the medical rules, enforcing regulatory compliance and information sharing in the near future. He also mentioned a couple challenges the industry is currently facing that they wish to address, including: expanding access to capital for entrepreneurs , removing impediments to finding real estate, educating municipalities to open up opportunities for applicants and ensuring medicinal cannabis access is unimpeded by recreational sales.
“We have made great strides in all of these efforts, and when we look at how New Jersey compares against other states, we fair pretty well,” Brown told lawmakers. “Beginning recreational sales on 4/21/22 was an important milestone. But it doesn’t mark the end of the process, it marks an important step in a multi-year effort to establish New Jersey as the premier cannabis market on the East Coast.”
On December 2, ASTM International, released a whitepaper called “Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol and the Need to Develop Standards to Protect Safety of Consumers.” On the same day, the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) launched an expert panel, drafting commentary and providing recommendations to protect public health. The two organizations are working in tandem to better educate the public as well as regulators on the science behind the risks that delta-8-THC products pose to the public.
ASTM has been working in the cannabis industry through their D37 committee since March of 2017. Soon after the D37 committee launched, they began crafting cannabis standards and have grown their membership and subcommittees considerably over the past few years. USP has also been involved in the cannabis space for quite some time, developing reference standards and offering guidance for the cannabis testing market.
The ASTM whitepaper details the current landscape for hemp-based products that contain delta-8-thc derived from CBD. It includes information on what the cannabinoid is, how it’s produced, the emergence of delta-8-thc in hemp markets and the need for better safety and performance standards.
David Vaillencourt, frequent CIJ contributor and ASTM International member, says they want to identify how we can maintain public safety when it comes to delta-8-THC. “Products containing delta-8-THC are widely available to consumers despite the known and unknown risks to consumer health and safety,” says Vaillencourt. “The topic is much deeper than simply the presence of delta-8-THC. Rather it is about defining how to label products containing potentially intoxicating cannabinoids and identifying what safeguards need to be in place to minimize the risk of impurities that can further impact consumer health.”
In addition to the technical information provided, ASTM’s whitepaper also discusses the risks of synthetic cannabinoids to public health and the regulatory landscape surrounding delta-8-THC. USP’s whitepaper discusses the chemical process that creates delta-8-THC, the unregulated market and offers guidance on how to regulate the cannabinoid with labeling and testing rules.
Dr. Ikhlas Khan, chairman of USP’s expert panel on cannabis, says we need a lot more research. “The fact of the matter is that little is known about the products labeled as containing delta-8, so much so that the FDA and CDC have both released advisories about the products,” says Khan. “Depending on how the products are produced, unknown impurities may be introduced, including minor and synthetic cannabinoid compounds that are not naturally occurring in cannabis.”
Delta-8-THC is not inherently unsafe, says Dr. Nandakumara Sarma, Director of Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines for USP. But as we’ve covered this before, the methods that manufacturers use to produce delta-8-THC could have harmful byproducts present in final products. “Synthetically derived cannabinoids are not necessarily inherently unsafe if they are quality controlled and shown to be safe,” says Dr. Sarma. “By using public quality standards, we can help in controlling the quality of the products and set appropriate limits for impurities.”
The folks at USP and ASTM will host a presentation on the two papers during ASTM’s 2nd Global Workshop on Advancing the Field of Cannabis through Standardization, to be held virtually Dec. 14, 2021.Click here to register.
As a business owner, it is imperative to concentrate your time on only the most essential areas of your business. To focus more on revenue generation and growth strategy, outsourcing your accounting is one of the wisest decisions you can make for your cannabis business.
A great accountant will prepare financial statements, manage cash flow and ensure that you remain compliant with your state’s rules and regulations. Your best option is finding an accountant who possesses the required technical and business knowledge and has also navigated the cannabis industry and understands its nuances.
There are a lot of factors to consider when searching for the right accountant and it can be difficult to know what questions you should ask. We’ve put together this list with some important considerations that pertain to accountants in the cannabis industry.
1. Do you have a network of cannabis industry professionals?
One of the greatest perks of partnering with an accountant that’s already established in the cannabis space is that they typically have connections to other industry professionals that might be helpful in the future. For example, suppose you have questions about important legislation or what permits are required for certain operations. It’s beneficial to be connected with people that can answer these questions for you.
Similarly, an accountant well-versed in the industry can notify you of events, conferences and trade shows that may be beneficial to your business. A great indicator that an accountant is well established in the industry is that they’re members of well-known trade associations, for example, the National Cannabis Industry Association.
2. What formal certifications do you hold (enrolled agent, CPA)? Are you familiar with cannabis compliance?
A CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and an Enrolled Agent have passed the IRS’s testing and keep up with continuing education every year. Not only is it necessary that your accountant has all required licensing per Internal Revenue Services (IRS), but it is also crucial to make sure you’re operating in compliance with state laws for cannabis businesses.
Dispensaries and other cannabis businesses are subject to various tax laws across every state, making compliance challenging. The rules and regulations of each state are unique. There is no exact residency requirement for every state, and some states do not apply IRS code 280E.
While an accountant might hold the necessary certifications, they might not have the industry expertise to guide you through any compliance issues you might come across. It’s important that you choose someone who’s both properly certified and well versed in the cannabis space.
3. Are you currently representing cannabis companies? How long have you been in this industry?
There is nothing typical about the cannabis industry, and it operates differently from most other industries. Businesses that have operated in the cannabis space for several years and have a wide range of clients have more experience dealing with the challenges and obstacles that come with running a cannabis business.
Finding a cannabis accountant with experience is particularly important when it comes to compliance as the rules & regulations are constantly evolving. It’s often that compliance issues can lead to hefty fines from the IRS, so choosing someone familiar with the industry will save you from these penalties.
4. What are the advantages of outsourcing accounting rather than doing it myself?
While you can take a DIY approach and purchase software like QuickBooks, there is an inherent risk in tackling all of your accounting initiatives alone. As mentioned above, the industry has its own unique challenges that differ from businesses in other fields and failure to pay close attention to these things can result in serious financial and legal trouble. A great team of accountants has the knowledge to keep you informed on the ever-changing legislation and give you advice on how to avoid costly mistakes.
Similarly, outsourcing your accounting allows you more time to focus on the most critical aspects of your business. Running your own company is in many cases a 24/7 job, with entrepreneurs scrambling to find enough time to complete daily tasks and make efforts to grow their business. An accountant that keeps accurate records of your performance can give you the data needed to identify areas of improvement and increase overall productivity.
5. What are you expecting from me every month?
One of the main reasons why some clients are left dissatisfied by accounting firms is due to miscommunication surrounding each party’s expectations. A good accounting service will establish open communication around their own needs, goals, and objectives. Educating yourself on what an accountant expects from you will enable you to give them the information they need to provide accurate and efficient services.
On the other hand, it’s just as important that you understand what will be delivered by your accountant on a regular basis. Some firms operate on an annual basis and provide one-time bookkeeping or end-of-year tax preparation. Others take a more month-to-month approach, offering continuous business consulting and tailored services unique to your business. It’s helpful to have a checklist that both you and your accountant can reference that ensures you’re staying on the same page.
Why cannabis accountants are important
To meet the growing demand for cannabis, many dispensaries and other cannabis-related businesses are opening across the country.
A company in this sector has tremendous potential for success, but that success is not without risks, especially financial challenges. Throughout the cannabis industry, there is a need for financial professionals who can understand complex laws and regulations in order to make a legal profit from the industry.
Further, business owners require assistance in navigating complicated tax laws and managing primarily cash-based businesses without the support of traditional banks. It is advantageous to have an accounting team that is knowledgeable about all the traditional accounting functions, like financial reporting and bookkeeping.
Additionally, you should find someone who can help you make the right investments and manage the ongoing flow of money into and out of your cannabis business. A great accountant will guide you to the specific tax requirements applicable to your particular legal structure, how to pay taxes owed and if any tax deductions are available despite Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 280E.
ASTM International, the renowned global standards body, has established a new subcommittee, D37.92, aimed at facilitating the exchange of ideas and information between policymakers, regulatory bodies, scientists, stakeholders and the public.
According to a press release, the new subcommittee, at the request of the U.S. Senate, has provided comments on the proposed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The comments including the sharing of ASTM’s work in the cannabis industry, their organization, membership information, defining cannabis terms and their published standards related to facilities, consumer safety and other areas.
The subcommittee is headed up by David Vaillencourt, founder & CEO of The GMP Collective and frequent contributor to Cannabis Industry Journal. “With a patchwork of regulations across state, federal, and international levels, this subcommittee will be valuable to industry and government stakeholders as a means to collaborate,” says Vaillencourt, current chair of the new government liaison subcommittee. “It’s really going to facilitate dialogue that will be key as we look ahead to a global marketplace in the coming years.”
ASTM has been working with the cannabis industry through their D37 committee since March of 2017. Soon after the D37 committee launched, they began crafting cannabis standards and have grown their membership and subcommittees considerably over the past few years. In August of this year, they announced the development a new voluntary, consensus-based standard, the Change Control Process Management standard. The new committee, D37.92, is currently seeking public participation in their work to develop the new standard. To learn more about cannabis committee participation and membership, click here.
Earlier this summer in July, Senators Chuck Schumer, Ron Wyden and Cory Booker held a press conference where they introduced the first draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). During the press conference, the Senators laid out the foundation for their comprehensive cannabis legalization measure, emphasizing the need to address social equity and social justice matters, while also asking for support in revising the draft bill.
In response to that call for input on the draft legislation, a number of nonprofits and trade organizations last week submitted comments. Among the organizations to submit comments on the new legislative proposal to end federal cannabis prohibition were a lot of cannabis advocacy organizations: The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) and the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR). To refresh your memory, CPEAR is a controversial trade organization founded in March of this year by corporate interests in big alcohol and tobacco.
Regardless of the interests behind the organizations, all of them seemed to have comments that aligned with one another. All of the comments submitted by those organizations had a common theme: social equity. Even CPEAR submitted comments highlighting the importance of “providing substantial opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses.”
The NCIA’s comments are perhaps the most comprehensive of the group, outlining an equitable, state-centric and small business-focused plan for federal cannabis reform. The MCBA’s comments reflect its mission and focus on things like restorative justice, minority participation, equitable access and inclusion.
The MPP’s comments are noteworthy because of their concerns regarding a number of regulations. Karen O’Keefe, state policies director at the MPP, says certain aspects of the regulatory scheme need clarification. “Our two major areas of concern are: the possible upending of state licensing and regulatory systems — driving sales underground — and the impact on medical cannabis access, including for those under the age of 21,” says O’Keefe.
NORML’s feedback is also particularly poignant. They ask to leave medical cannabis markets exempted from the federal excise tax proposed and for the federal government to balance roles shared between the FDA, TTB and ATF to ensure that individual state markets won’t be adversely affected by federal regulation.
With the signing of the Cannabis Control Act (the Act) on April 21, 2021, Virginia became the first southern state to legalize adult use cannabis and just the fourth state to do so through the legislature. Legalizing adult use cannabis through the legislature, as opposed to through the ballot box, is not the typical route states have followed up to now. Eleven of the sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use cannabis through the use of ballot measures. Virginia joins Vermont, Illinois, New York and New Mexico (which legalized after Virginia) as one of the few states that have gone the legislative route. Under Governor Northam’s administration, the path to legalization was swift, taking less than four months from introduction to passage.
Governor Northam added amendments to the already passed Senate Bill 1406 and the General Assembly voted to approve those amendments, with the Lieutenant Governor breaking the tie in the Senate’s vote. Upon signing, Governor Northam called the law a step towards “building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.” This message and the opportunities to promote social equity through a legal cannabis industry have been consistent points of advocacy made by supporters as the bill advanced to becoming law.
Prior to the Governor’s amendments, the Act under consideration set July 1, 2024 as the date on which both legal possession and adult use sales would begin. The Governor decided to accelerate the date for legal possession to July 1 of this year, a decision believed to have been influenced by data showing that Black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be cited for possession, even after simple possession was decriminalized in the state a year prior. The regulated adult use market is still set to begin making sales on July 1, 2024; however, it remains possible that this date could be advanced through the legislature in the meantime. Nevertheless, Virginia is on track to becoming the first southern state with an operating regulated commercial cannabis market.
Creating an Administrative Structure for the Adult Use Program
This sweeping fifty-page law creates the Cannabis Control Authority to regulate the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis product. The Act further lays the groundwork for licensing market participants and regulating appropriate use of cannabis; defining local control; testing, labeling, packaging and advertising of cannabis and cannabis products; and taxation. The Act also contains changes to the criminal laws of the Commonwealth. Companion to the Act are new laws addressing the testing, labeling and packaging of smokable hemp products and manufacturing of edible cannabis products. Additionally, the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board was created to address the impact of economic divestment, violence and criminal justice responses to community and individual needs through scholarships and grants.
While persons 21 years or older may possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use per household beginning on July 1, 2021, there are a host of regulations to be written in order to regulate the adult use market. These regulations will be the devil in the details of how the regulated market will work. Regardless, the Cannabis Control Act does establish the framework for adult use cannabis that is unique to Virginia and designed to promote and encourage participation from people and communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.
The Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) will consist of a Board of Directors, the Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council, the Chief Executive Officer and employees. The Board will have five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the legislature, each with the possibility of serving two consecutive five-year terms. The Board is tasked with creating and enforcing regulations under which retail cannabis and cannabis products are possessed, sold, transported, distributed, and delivered. It is expected that the Board will begin discussing regulations next year and that applications for licenses for cannabis cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, cannabis testing facilities, wholesalers, and retail stores will begin to be accepted in 2023. Importantly, a Business Equity and Diversity Support Team, led by a Social Equity Liaison, and the Equity Reinvestment Board, led by the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, are to contribute to a plan to promote and encourage participation in the industry by people from disproportionately impacted communities.
Regulating Participation in the Market
The Act empowers the Board to establish a robust and diverse marketplace with many entry opportunities for market participants. Up to 450 cultivation licenses, 60 manufacturing licenses for the production of retail cannabis products, 25 wholesaler licenses and 400 licenses for retail stores can be granted. These numbers do not include the four permits granted to pharmaceutical processors (entities that cultivate and dispense medical cannabis) under the Commonwealth’s medical program.
In addition to the sheer number of licenses that can be granted, the Act devises a unique approach to addressing concerns of a concentration of licenses in too few hands and a market dominated by large multi-state operators. At the same time, it sets up a mechanism to capitalize two cannabis equity funds intended to benefit persons, families and communities historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement through grants, scholarships and loans. Over-concentration and market dominance concerns are addressed by limiting a person to holding an equity interest in no more than one cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaler, retail or testing facility license. This eliminates the ability of companies to be vertically integrated from cultivation through retail sales operations. However, there are two exceptions to the impediment to vertical integration. First, the Board is authorized to develop regulations that permit small businesses to be vertically integrated and ensure that all licensees have an equal and meaningful opportunity to participate in the market. These regulations will be closely scrutinized by those looking to enter Virginia’s regulated market once they are proposed. Qualifying small businesses could benefit substantially from the economic advantages commensurate with being vertically integrated, assuming they have the access to the capital needed to achieve integration and operate successfully. The second exception allows permitted pharmaceutical processors and registered industrial hemp processors to hold multiple licenses if they pay $1 million to the Board (to be allocated to job training, the equity loan fund or equity reinvestment fund) and submit a diversity, equity and inclusion plan for approval and implementation. Consequently, Virginia is attempting to fund, in part, its ambitious social equity programs by monetizing the opportunity for these processors to participate vertically in the adult use market.
Those devilish details of how this market will function, and how onerous compliance obligations will be, will emanate from those yet to be proposed regulations covering many areas and subject matters including:
Outdoor cultivation by cultivation facilities;
A testing program;
An application process;
Packaging and labeling requirements;
Maximum THC level for retail products (not to exceed 5 mg per serving or 50 mg per package for edible products);
Record retention requirements;
Criteria for evaluating social equity license applications based on certain ownership standards;
Licensing preferences for qualified social equity applicants;
Low interest loan program standards;
Personal cultivation guidelines; and
Outdoor advertising restrictions.
Needless to say, the CCA Board has a lot work ahead in order to issue reasonable regulations that will carry out the dictates in the Act and encourage the development of a well-functioning marketplace delivering meaningful social equity opportunities.
Much work needs to be done before July 1, 2024 to prepare for its debutThe application process for the five categories of licenses will be developed by the Board, along with application fee and annual license fee amounts. It is not clear how substantial these fees will be and what effect they will have on the ability of less-well-capitalized companies and individuals to compete in the market. The Act dictates that licenses are deemed nontransferable from person to person or location to location. However, it is not entirely clear that changes in ownership will be prohibited. The Act contemplates that changes in ownership will be permitted, at least as to retail store licensees, through a reapplication process. Perhaps the forthcoming regulations will add clarity to the transferability of licenses and address the use of management services agreements as a potential workaround to the limitations in license ownership.
Certain requirements particular to certain license-types are worthy of highlighting. For example, there are two classes of cultivation licenses. Class A cultivation licenses authorize cultivation of a certain number of plants within a certain number of square feet to be determined by the Board. Interestingly, Class B licenses are for cultivation of low total THC (no more than 1%) cannabis. Several requirements specific to retail stores are noteworthy. Stores cannot exceed 1,500 square feet, or make sales through drive-through windows, internet-based sales platforms or delivery services. Prohibitive local ordinances are not allowed; however, localities can petition for a referendum on the question of whether retail stores should be prohibited in their locality. Retail stores are allowed to sell immature plants and seek to support the home growers, an allowance that is fairly unique among the existing legal adult-use states.
Taxing Cannabis Sales
Given the perception that regulated cannabis markets add to state coffers, it is little surprise that Virginia’s retail market will be subject to significant taxes. The taxing system is straightforward and not complicated by a taxing regime related to product weight or THC content, for example. There is a 21% tax on retail sales by stores, in addition to the current sales tax rates. In addition, localities may, by ordinance, impose a 3% tax on retail sales. These taxes could result in a retail tax of approximately 30%.
Changes to Criminal Laws
Changes to the criminality of cannabis will have long lasting effects for many Virginians. These changes include:
Fines of no more than $25 and participation in substance abuse or education programs for illegal purchases by juveniles or persons 18 years or older;
Prohibition of warrantless searches based solely on the odor of cannabis;
Automatic expungement of records for certain former cannabis offenses;
Prohibition of “gifting” cannabis in exchange for nominal purchases of some other product;
Prohibition of consuming cannabis or cannabis products in public; and
Prohibition of consumption by drivers or passengers in a motor vehicle being driven, with consumption being presumed if cannabis in the passenger compartment is not in the original sealed manufacturer’s container.
These changes, and others, represent a balancing of public safety with lessons learned from the effects of the war on drugs.
The Act contains myriad other noteworthy provisions. For example, the Board must develop, implement and maintain a seed-to-sale tracking system for the industry. Plants being grown at home must be tagged with the grower’s name and driver’s license or state ID number. Licenses may be stripped from businesses that do not remain neutral while workers attempt to unionize. However, this provision will not become effective unless approved again by the legislature next year. Banks and credit unions are protected under state law for providing financial services to licensed businesses or for investing any income derived from the providing of such services. This provision is intended to address the lack of access to banking for cannabis businesses due to the federal illegality of cannabis by removing any perceived state law barriers for banks and credit unions to do business with licensed cannabis companies.
The adult use cannabis industry is coming to Virginia. Much work needs to be done before July 1, 2024 to prepare for its debut. However, the criminal justice reforms and commitment to repairing harms related to past prohibition of cannabis are soon to be a present-day reality. Virginia is the first Southern state to take the path towards legal adult use cannabis. It is unlikely to be the last.
Last week, GW Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: GWPH) announced they have entered into an agreement with Jazz Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: JAZZ) for Jazz to acquire GW Pharma. Both boards of directors for the two companies have approved the deal and they expect the acquisition to close in the second quarter of 2021.
GW Pharma is well-known in the cannabis industry as producing the first and only FDA-approved drug containing CBD, Epidiolex. Epidiolex is approved for the treatment of seizures in rare diseases like severe forms of epilepsy. GW is also currently in phase 3 trials seeking FDA approval for a similar drug, Nabiximols, that treats spasms from conditions like multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.
Jazz Pharmaceuticals is a biopharmaceutical company based in Ireland that is known for its drug Xyrem, which is approved by the FDA to treat narcolepsy.
Bruce Cozadd, chairman and CEO of Jazz, says the acquisition will bring together two companies that have a track record of developing “differentiated therapies,” adding to their portfolio of sleep medicine and their growing oncology business. “We are excited to add GW’s industry-leading cannabinoid platform, innovative pipeline and products, which will strengthen and broaden our neuroscience portfolio, further diversify our revenue and drive sustainable, long-term value creation opportunities,” says Cozadd.
Justin Gover, CEO of GW Pharma, says the two companies share a vision for developing and commercializing innovative medicines, with a focus on neuroscience. “Over the last two decades, GW has built an unparalleled global leadership position in cannabinoid science, including the successful launch of Epidiolex, a breakthrough product within the field of epilepsy, and a diverse and robust neuroscience pipeline,” says Gover. “We believe that Jazz is an ideal growth partner that is committed to supporting our commercial efforts, as well as ongoing clinical and research programs.”
As more nations across the globe embrace the benefits of legal cannabis, to say the business is booming is an understatement. But with cannabis going corporate in a big way and marketing standards still hit or miss, the reality of unethical marketing practices that manipulate consumers and run roughshod over small businesses threatens to do harm if not brought under control.
Enter Cresco Labs, a major player in the international cannabis industry. Contrary to what you might expect, and bringing in a breath of fresh air, this giant is pushing to install marketing standards that protect the ethical interests of all cannabis businesses.
In this article, we will take a look at some key elements of ethical advertising in the cannabis industry and explore the Cresco Labs proposal.
The Power of Advertising
Advertising is a powerful medium for rebranding and influencing public perception. The messages conveyed by ads reflect the changing moral, ethical, and consumer opinions of society – and often create them in the first place. For cannabis, an industry rife with stereotypes, ads present a strong opportunity to change the popular face and perception of cannabis as nothing more than a vehicle to get high.
Today’s numbers tell a different story with a full 19% using it for pain relief and another 37% to relax. Even one successful ad campaign can change the mind of a skeptical consumer. So how to ethically harness this power?
Cannabis rebranding generally works best when it draws on four main elements:
Emphasize health and wellness benefits. Most new customers who are interested in cannabis these days are attracted by the inspiring health and wellness possibilities that cannabis products present. By redefining cannabis as a medical product suitable for families, the elderly and patients suffering from various ailments, and not simply as a way to get high, cannabis companies can target the audiences that will most benefit from their products.
Replace typical “juvenile” imagery with sophisticated graphic design approaches. With so many options for how to use and consume cannabis these days, it is no wonder that brands are embracing trendy, sophisticated, contemporary design techniques. Logos featuring minimalist and elegant fonts more accurately express the narrative behind products such as cannabis teas, cannabis-infused oils and edibles.
Highlight the science behind the products. For those naysayers still determined to limit cannabis to its recreational usages only, to the exclusion of its many health benefits, exploring the science is vital. By citing legitimate research studies and findings, and explaining the scientific processes at play when using cannabis, ads can debunk false myths while educating the public.
Tell a compelling, relatable story. Like all good advertising, the narrative is key to engaging audiences. Framing cannabis within the powerful context of a compelling story is a strong approach to making a memorable impact on consumers.
Wild West Advertising
Because cannabis is such a new industry, only recently becoming legal in many states (and countries), advertising agencies have been reticent to sign on with these companies. The lack of regular advertising standards means that cannabis advertising has been compared to the “wild west,” where anything goes. While some companies struggle to promote a more wholesome, consumer-friendly image of cannabis, marketing to broad audiences, other companies embrace stoner stereotypes and industry myths, often resulting in ads that depict unethical content.
Unofficial social media ads may target underage customers, with slogans featuring symbols like Santa Clause, or presenting underage people in their ads next to cannabis products, as in a recent Instagram ad from one brand, Dogwalkers. The ad shows a person holding a pre-rolled joint on the beach with a caption that reads “let the good times (pre) roll.” The image also features young-looking surfers in the background, an implied invitation to underage consumers to sample these products.
Without regulation, businesses are also free to create advertisements rife with false claims. Vulnerable people, patients with chronic illnesses, senior citizens and others may be susceptible to the claims presented in these ads. The FDA has recently begun to crack down on this spread of misinformation, but putting in place industry-wide advertising standards would also have a strong effect.
Operating in nine states in the U.S., Cresco Labs is a vertically integrated, publicly traded company that has recently released a proposal for establishing marketing rules for the cannabis industry. The proposal, entitled “Responsible Advertising and Marketing Standards for the U.S. Cannabis Industry” outlines a vision to hold the U.S. cannabis industry to a higher professional and ethical standard than is the current norm, thus legitimizing the industry.
Some specific rules in the proposal stipulate that ads depicting over-consumption as a fun or desirable outcome should violate industry standards. Additionally, the widespread adoption of this proposal would ban any marketing approaches that target underage consumers, ensuring that companies are better able to enforce legal age restrictions.
The company, alongside other large cannabis organizations, has released this proposal as part of an attempt to normalize the industry, allowing it to bring in top ad companies to help promote their brands. While cannabis retains the pop culture imagery of stoner culture and its associations with reckless behavior and teenage cannabis usage, regular advertising sources will remain skeptical about getting involved.
As the industry continues to evolve and expand, more regulation will be useful in terms of establishing dominant narratives to help redefine how cannabis appears in the popular imagination and what kind of clientele is attracted to cannabis products. But by redefining the acceptable standards of advertising, there is also a risk that cannabis will lose some of the intrigue and novelty that currently makes it a popular, trending topic.
Still, if rebranding campaigns can shift the story so that cannabis appeals to the masses, then everyone in the cannabis industry ultimately benefits.
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