Village Farms International (NASDAQ: VFF) manages and operates greenhouse facilities in North America. They’ve worked with growers for over 30 years and started supporting cannabis growers in 2017. The company was founded by Michael A. DeGiglio and Albert W. Vanzeyst in 1987 and is headquartered in Delta, Canada. But is Village Farms stock a strong buy?
What is Village Farms International?
Village Farms International has a long history of managing and operating energy efficient grow facilities for agricultural crops. This includes cannabis, recently, and vegetables which bring in over $200 million in revenue annually.
Their 2021 acquisition of Pure SunFarms, one of Canada’s best known cannabis brands, gave them around $17 million in extra revenue and a large opportunity in the flower competition in Canada. Current goals have them taking 20% of the flower market share. They also deal in vapes, oils and infused edibles.
Bottom Line: Is Village Farms Stock a Strong Buy?
Village Farms stock shows plenty of promise. They have a large footprint in Texas as well, supporting hemp cultivation and processing into CBD products for distribution in the USA. With a small stake in Altum International, they also have a presence in Asia.
Excitingly, their subsidiary Balanced Health Botanicals, has come out with their Synergy Collections of SKUs (cannabinoids such as CBDA, CBG, and CBG with non-hallucinogenic mushrooms and Kava roots). These products will come as tinctures, capsules and drinks (around 31 SKUs pending) and should diversify their product offerings even more.
Their revenue remains strong, with adjusted EBITDA up 49% YoY and Pure SunFarms reporting 12 straight quarters of positive adjusted EBITDA. They have a lot of cash and are paying off their debt and recent acquisition costs quickly. With really low P/S, Price/Book and EV/Revenue ratios (all under 4) we see a bargain price now for a company that should slowly grow for the next six quarters.
Village Farms stock presents a longer buy and hold opportunity but the recent price drop (37% in 1 year?!) is making much more of an enticing deal now.
For all these reasons we rate VFF as Strong.
83% of Cannin’s fundamentals prove true within 30 days or less on 100+ recommendations over the past 3 years.
The cannabis industry is an unprecedented industry and one under constant review and control. Following the November 2020 elections, fifteen states and Washington DC have legalized adult use cannabis, a number that will continue to grow as legalization slowly becomes more widely adopted in other states. Beyond that, a continuously growing number of states allow residents to purchase legal medicinal cannabis, and many have also decriminalized adult use. However, it still remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act and is therefore illegal on all accounts at the U.S. federal level, which creates a number of issues for businesses in the cannabis industry duly operating in states where it has been legalized.
Not only is it difficult for cannabis companies to avail themselves of alternative banking solutions, but there are also obstacles in place preventing these companies from taking advantage of notable tax deductions. The primary obstacle being Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 280E.
What is Section 280E?
Section 280E is a relatively short code section, only 77 words to be exact, but it carries significant weight and can have a debilitating effect on the taxable income of marijuana [sic] related businesses (MRB). Section 280E of the IRC prohibits taxpayers who are engaged in the business of trafficking certain controlled substances, including cannabis, from deducting typical business expenses associated those activities. Section 280E, which was enacted in 1982 during the “War on Drugs” era, has become increasingly relevant for cannabis businesses. The cannabis industry has grown substantially in recent years with annual market values expected to reach $30 billion by 2025.
However, while Section 280E greatly restricts the tax deductions of state-legal cannabis businesses, there is some reprieve. Current IRC provisions permit state-legal cannabis businesses, including growers, producers, wholesalers or retailers, to deduct the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) in computing their US federal income tax liability, despite the application of Section 280E.
Impact of Section 280E on Businesses
What does Section 280E mean for cannabis businesses today? It is intended to prevent dealers from claiming tax deductions for their business expenses, interpreted to include state-legal cannabis businesses, reduced deductions that result in increased taxable income and MRBs will face higher federal tax rates.
The IRC disallows any deductions or credits paid or incurred during a tax year if those deductions or credits relate to trafficking controlled substances. The courts have taken the position that the term “trafficking” in this case means “engaging in a commercial activity – that is, to buy and sell regularly.” Simply, the law denies cannabis businesses any U.S. federal income tax deduction for ordinary and necessary business expenses, despite being duly licensed as a legal business in their state of operation.
Typically, the ability to deduct ordinary business expenses means that a business is subject to federal tax on its net income (i.e., gross receipts minus expenses). However, the definition of Section 280E and the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance severely hinders legal cannabis companies from taking advantage of tax deductions for actual economic expenses incurred in the ordinary course of business, which results in a significantly higher effective tax rate as compared to other businesses.
Legal Actions and Challenges to Section 280E
There have been court challenges and concessions made to Section 280E. Specifically, the 2007 court case Californians Helping to Alleviate Medical Problems, Inc., v. Commissioner. This court case reinforced the precedence that Section 280E does not apply to cost of goods sold. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines cost of goods sold to be “expenditures necessary to acquire, construct or extract a physical product which is to be sold.” Generally, for a retail MRB, this means that the direct cost of acquiring cannabis products for resale. Deductions for rent, utilities, wages, insurance and other operating costs common to ordinary businesses are generally disallowed. New York State has specifically indicated that it intends to follow Section 280E for its own income tax calculations, disallowing these same deductions against New York taxable income
Tax Court and Section 280E
The Tax Court has also been aggressive in tamping down efforts by MRBs to separate cannabis related and non-cannabis related activities. The courts argue that these separate activities constitute a single trade or business when they share a close and inseparable organizational and economic relationship. In addition, the risk of cannabis related activities tainting a taxpayer’s other business concerns exists if services or employees are shared between an MRB and a non-MRB. Allocation of expenditures to cost of goods sold, as well as any allocations of costs between MRB and non-MRB entities, need to be well thought out and supported by defensible tax and accounting positions.
The Future of MRBs and Section 280E
All indications point to an increased frequency of IRS audits of MRBs compared to audits of non-cannabis related businesses. Therefore, documenting the methodology behind the calculation of costs of goods sold is even more important for MRBs. It is vital to consult with a tax advisor to ensure you are maximizing your cost of goods sold deductions and preparing the best documentation possible to support your 280E tax positions.
Disclaimer: The information presented in this article should not be considered legal advice or counsel and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. If the reader of this has legal or accounting questions, it is recommended they consult with their attorney or accountant.
Natural cannabinoid distillates and isolates are hydrophobic oils and solids, meaning that they do not mix well with water and are poorly absorbed in the human body after consumption. Cannabinoid oils can be formulated into emulsions to form a fine suspension in water to improve bioavailability, stability and flavor. Vertosa is a cannabis infused ingredients company specializing in emulsion technologies. Their technology can be found in a range of CBD and THC containing beverages found on shelves today.
We spoke with Austin Stevenson, chief innovation officer at Vertosa, to learn more about emulsification technology and some of the challenges in testing cannabis infused beverages. Stevenson joined Vertosa in 2019 after spending time as a cannabis advisor at CanopyBoulder as an entrepreneur in residence. Prior to Vertosa, Stevenson ran the hemp and CBD analytical testing laboratory business unit for Eurofins.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Austin Stevenson: I got involved in the cannabis industry nearly seven years ago, when I was an advisor to an accelerator in agriculture technology in Africa. I went to the MIT Innovation Laboratory, and I saw a whole bunch of farmers cultivating green leafy vegetables in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, which piqued my curiosity. I learned that it was all done via hydroponic indoor cultivation and freight containers. I got back to the US and put my detective hat on, and learned that it was really the cannabis industry that was driving innovation in terms of indoor and sustainable agriculture. At that point, I took it as an opportunity to dive in and started, again, as an advisor at an accelerator in Colorado. From there, I’ve been on the amazing cannabis journey.
Green: And how did you get involved with Vertosa?
Stevenson: I became an advisor at CanopyBoulder to a few software companies and got on the founding team there as well as at a few cultivation companies and other license types across the supply chain. Immediately before Vertosa, I ran the business unit for hemp and CBD testing at Eurofins, one of the world’s largest analytical chemistry laboratories, specializing in Ag Pharma. My clients were your traditional retailers: CVS, Kroger. Our team analyzed thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of SKUs of infused products.
At one point I had to tell one of my clients at Eurofins, that all of their beverage SKUs were failing potency tests. Their supplements, OTC products, some of the confections, cosmetics, were all passing, but the beverages were failing potency testing. Cannabinoid ingredients were floating to the top, sinking to the bottom, even leaching into the can liners. It just wasn’t working, so we had to tell them that those beverages could not go to market. On this same day, I happened to run into my longtime friend and business partner in the industry (now Vertosa CEO) Ben Larson at a conference in Oakland, who was running the Gateway Incubator at the time, but had met our other partner and founder, Dr. Harold Han. Ben told me, “I have this PhD chemist, a surface chemist from BioRad. He’s been experimenting with techniques, taking cannabis oils and turning them into fast acting emulsions for beverages. I’d like for you to check it out because I’m considering building a business around this.” I said, “Alright, show me the technology. Let me take it back to the lab, analyze it, verify it, and then try it. See if it works.” Lo and behold, it did. I fell in love with the product. I saw the problem firsthand at my lab and now I saw a solution, so I knew that the next part of my cannabis journey would be to join Ben and Harold in building a business together focused on being the number one technology solving the problem of stability and potency for the infused beverage market.
Green: What is the core technology of Vertosa?
Stevenson: Our focus at Vertosa is being the best delivery mechanism for cannabinoids. That means that we have a portfolio of different technologies that we’re using to take cannabis oils and turn them into fast-acting liquid emulsions, as well as powder-based APIs. When we began, we were using nano-emulsification. We are using nanotechnology in the food space, with a few different methods for creating those nano-emulsions, to infuse a diverse range of different products – everything from seltzer waters to dealcoholized wines and teas.
Green: So, it’s a portfolio of products with the basic idea of encapsulating the oil into smaller components. Can you highlight some of the challenges when you were first developing the product with testing? My assumption is that it was relatively new for testing labs. How did you support method development with them so that you are accurately reporting cannabinoid content?
Stevenson: The biggest problem that we faced at Vertosa is that there’s no one size that fits all. The chemistry of an infused seltzer water is different than the chemistry of a dealcoholized wine. The reason is because, quite literally, the ingredients are different. They’re different products. When we’re making the emulsions for these beverages, all the ingredients have to be compatible – the ingredients in the emulsion as well as the ingredients in the beverage. We’ve had to design a portfolio of different emulsions for different beverage types to ensure compatibility in any scenario, otherwise there could be instability, causing separation between the emulsion and the ingredients.
Additionally, we’ve seen challenges in the packaging type as well as the manufacturing techniques, specifically sterilization, thermal processing, chemical treatment, or the lack thereof. These three core variables (ingredients, packaging, and manufacturing technique) are where all the challenges in potency testing arise. For example, you have an infused beverage that is going to be packaged in an aluminum can. There is a polarity between cannabinoids and the can aligners that ultimately could create leaching, or an absorption type of effect.
At Eurofins, we would see beverages that were supposed to contain CBD in the can but were testing at 0 milligrams, despite manufacturers confirming that they had added the CBD. All the CBD had been absorbed into the can liner. Our teams of method development chemists and management had learned to acid rinse the can liner so that we would be able to capture the cannabinoids and identify them. That was a step that we had to learn through trial and error, and we were able to bring this over and build upon this at Vertosa.
Here at Vertosa, the biggest challenge in the lab currently is that there aren’t consistent methods for analyzing beverages. Every lab has different standards, and the instrumentation hasn’t always been calibrated. To ensure that these low dose beverages are measured properly, you have an accurate LOQ to identify the cannabinoid content. Part of the challenge is that the analytical chemistry community has only started to collaborate here recently, literally in the last few months as the AOAC made a call to action for methods for beverage.
At Vertosa, we’ve had to work together with the labs and ask if they have a method for developing beverages. It’s a three-step approach: we send a lab the oil, the emulsion, and the finished product, and ensure that the accurate cannabinoid profile is being diluted across the entire chain to make sure that each step the instrumentation has been calibrated the correct way. We want to make sure that they calibrate it into the HPLC and that the correct cannabinoid profile is always consistent in the finished product. It’s a lot of intimate hand-holding with the labs.
Green: So, you took it upon yourself to go out and get the methods validated, anticipating the need for finished goods testing with your customers and partners?
Stevenson: That’s right. From the beginning, we understood that the problems we are setting out to solve are consistent potency testing and accurate dosing. We wanted to be able to say confidently that when you work with us, you’re going to pass potency tests every time. And if you don’t, we’re going to uncover the reasons why.
For us, we have been able to provide that consistent and reliable ingredient. And yes, there’s been stumbles along the way, but those stumbles are the learnings that make us better. In the beginning, we had just one formula but the chemistries of different beverages vary too much for that to work. We also know that packaging type and manufacturing processes play a role. So, we now have a portfolio of different emulsions, such as conventional, natural, and organic, that can work with any given varibale and that have verifiable potency.
We anchor ourselves to the promise that our clients will pass potency, because that’s the biggest problem most brands have.We know the ingredients inside and out – knowing how heat plays a role, how polyphenols play a role, how oxygen plays a role, and helping the labs and our brand partners succeed while minimizing all the risk and pain that they go through with failed potency. You’d be surprised how many people are using the wrong product in formulation. A new client will come to us frustrated after adding CBD isolate powder to their beverage and seeing it fail potency tests. That’s where we’re able to come in and correct the course.
Green: Someone comes in with a magic wand. What do they solve for you?
“Efficacy research is the most interesting aspect of industry research to me.”Stevenson: If I had a magic wand, I would use it to accelerate efficacy research to validate and verify specific cannabinoids/terpene formulas for targeted effects. In other words, I’d love to have a peer-reviewed, scientifically validated cannabis formula for any desired effect, like anxiety or pain relief, aid in sleep, or increased energy, for example. At Vertosa, we’re currently investing in third party academic research to empower our clients with validated information; however, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort conducting research and clinical trials. It’s a long but essential and beneficial process!
Green: What trends are you following in the industry?
Stevenson: In the world of edibles and ingestibles, I’m extremely interested in exploring onset times and bioavailability technologies, as well as trends in ingredients. More of our clients are interested in rapid onset times so that consumers feel the effects within minutes of consumption, removing some of the stereotypical hesitation around edibles and wondering when “it’ll hit.” It’s also fascinating to explore and integrate minor cannabinoids as well as active and functional ingredients and how they interact together in an ingestible.
I’m also extremely interested in keeping up with changing regulatory policy around consumption lounges and access in recently recreational states. Open consumption lounges are a fantastic solution to further normalizing cannabis usage and decentralizing alcohol in our culture, as consumer behavior is increasingly reflecting a move away from alcohol towards more health-conscious choices.
Green: What are you most interested in learning about?
Stevenson: Efficacy research is the most interesting aspect of industry research to me. Most of us cannabis professionals are passionate about the plant, and anecdotally know how cannabis can be used to improve quality of life. However, the scientific and academic community needs to see hard evidence. As we build the industry in a post-prohibition era, there is more access to research grants to evaluate the efficacy and safety of cannabis. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has identified four (4) key areas of cannabis research eligible for grant funding: (1) cannabinoid research (2) cannabidiol research (3) endocannabinoid system, ECS research, and (4) therapeutic effects of cannabinoids. It’s the latter two, ECS and therapeutic effects, that really spark my curiosity. At VERTOSA, we’re spending a lot of time and resources with our Scientific Advisory board to help accelerate this research, and I’m personally excited about the forthcoming discoveries we make, which will help our entire industry grow and thrive!
With 2022 comes a new year for cannabis. Mid-term elections, political forces shifting and several cannabis-related bills in the legislature make federal legalization seem like a reality closer than ever before. On the cannabis market’s side of things, disruptions are always occurring. Consumer spending on different product categories, new technologies for extraction processes, new cannabinoid and medical research and entirely new types of products including things like nanoemulsion tech have all been playing a role in market trends.
As our readers have probably noticed, we’ve been publishing conversations with industry leaders from every corner of the market. For this piece, we wanted to do something different. Instead of showing you a conversation with one individual, we asked the same question to seven different leaders in the cannabis space during interviews. The idea here is to see what interests people most in the cannabis industry. Are they excited about new research? Or new product development trends? Or do they believe a certain market is headed in a new direction?
So, what trends are you following in the industry? Below you’ll find seven responses to that question from various leaders in the cannabis space. We also want to hear from you though. What trends are you following? Leave a comment at the bottom of the article and let us know!
What trends are you following in the cannabis industry?
Brooke Butler, VP of Partnerships at Simplifya
Butler: I am obsessed at this point with the new states that have legalized, especially on the East Coast, like New Jersey and New York. I’m interested in the local jurisdictions and what’s going on with people opting out or opting in and how that’s playing out. The interesting thing about the pandemic is we had so much more cannabis reform than anybody expected. We went fast because suddenly, jurisdictions now need more money. They have budget shortfalls that they’ve got to account for, and I think they’re starting to realize that cannabis is a great way to do that. If I’m in New York, and I don’t have an adult use store, but New Jersey is about to open all their adult use stores, everybody’s going to be driving across state lines and giving that tax revenue to New Jersey. So why not regulate it and make it safe for your constituents, and get tax revenue for your jurisdiction that you can then put to use for education, or community centers and things like that? So, we’re really seeing the evolution of that change and California is a great example of that. We’ve seen a lot of jurisdictions where when the state first legalized back in 2018, they were like, “there’s no way we’ll ever do it,” and they’ve started coming around. That for me is really exciting. I love watching people’s minds shift and trying to figure out what’s really driving that.
Arthur Jaffee, Founder & CEO of ECS Brands
Jaffee: I’m following the regulatory landscape closely. There’s a lot of confusion and complexity around that topic. There are different cannabinoid conversion procedures for delta eight now and all these other derivatives to THC have made things much more complicated from a regulatory standpoint. There’s also been an increase in production of cannabinoids from non-cannabis sources where there’s no evidence at all yet in terms of proving safety. At least with cannabis, we have decades of public use, safety and consumption data that really supports a generally safe product profile. With some of these synthetically derived cannabinoids, people just assume that “bio-identical” guarantees being safe, but there’s no evidence and therefore should absolutely not be assumed. Synthetic cannabinoids require extensive research because the slightest modification in molecular composition can be very dangerous. Evidence is key, and it just doesn’t exist yet. We know that cannabinoids that are naturally existing and derived from the plant are safe, and ultimately designed for the body. when you start manipulating the molecular composition it may be hurtful.
Ricardo Willis, CEO at Hanu Labs
Willis: Hotels and restaurants are a big thing for me. I talked to a few people last night who own a restaurant in Oklahoma, and they’ve gotten one of the first permits to be able to include cannabis offerings in their restaurant. Our products fit well in resort, hotel, or restaurant settings, especially when you want to offer customers a safer device to use. Having been a chef, I can just imagine all this food on the table and then having a vaporizer that is portable flip over on the table, ruining everything. So, I want something that’s stationary. It’s right there, as the centerpiece. Also, people are going to use cannabis in these places, like hotels no matter what. So, do I want somebody using a blowtorch to light their rig? Or do I want someone using a safe device that has automatic shut off and things of that nature. So that’s important.
Lastly, pricing is a trend that I’m following closely. We’ve seen a huge dip in the pricing in California flower. I want to see if that trend is going to matriculate over to the concentrates, which is one of my favorite spaces because I’m a dabber. I know that vape carts are losing some steam in the pricing categories. We saw one-gram carts that were $60, several months ago. Now companies are offering one-gram carts at $28. It’s going to affect the industry.
Marc Lakmaaker, SVP of Capital Markets at Audacious
Lakmaaker: I’m looking at how brands develop in markets and what kind of what products resonate. You’ve got the cannacurious coming in, you’ve got new demographics coming in. And then you’ve got the existing cannabis culture. For companies that are authentic, it’s very important to have that connection to the culture. It’s more than just about cannabis, it’s about lifestyle. But then on the other end, there’s a lot of people that are coming in for a variety of reasons, the medical, recreational, whatever. So, what I’m trying to look at is what is resonating with which target groups. What kind of products really hit this spot in terms of branding, but also the actual product offering and trying to see if we’re seeing a movement towards either form factors, or entourage effect kind of products, terpenes, etc. so you know, what do people want.
I’m seeing that increasingly, if they’re cannacurious that are coming in and get acquainted with cannabis over certain period of time, they’ll probably go for a lot of value options. But then same as with certain alcohol cool brands, or fashion or whatever, we are now seeing a movement where the people that have been in the market for six months to a year are I slowly move into the higher ends. I think that’s something that’s happening, where people who have been in cannabis for a while are now becoming more discerning in the products that they’re going for, and how do those mechanisms work.
Sam Andras, AIA, Principal of MJ12 Design Studio and Executive Vice President of Professional Services at urban-gro (Nasdaq: UGRO)
Andras: One of the most fascinating things to me about this industry is everyday there seem to be 10 new technologies. Eventually, one of those technologies is likely to be successful. You’ve got things like grow pods, you got Agra fi, modular, rooms, modular driver, and semi. This industry is filled with trending technology. And I think one of the greatest challenges as an architect is to understand how to work with the client, to really understand their philosophy and what they’re trying to accomplish and working with their grower. It is important not to restrict a grower to one specific cultivation method, but to explore how you can design a facility that allows a client to modify a cultivation methodology down the road. Designing flexible facilities that can adapt and adopt the future technologies is critical.
Derek Smith, Executive Director of Resource Innovation Institute (RII)
Smith: So, I see the need for MSOs and certainly publicly listed companies, to report on ESG. We are essentially the “E” of the ESG. We have the environmental data on energy, emissions, water and waste, to support the MSOs with that data need. That to me is a perfect storm where there’s pressure to do the reporting and we have a tool and an infrastructure that’s broadly supported, recognized by governments, by utilities, by cultivation operations, supported by the supply chain. We’re here to help serve that need. We’re a non-profit. We’ll protect the data of the companies, and then they can get in the queue to be recognized as leaders for being part of this effort. That to me is an exciting trend right now. Everybody wants to make a commitment and show progress on sustainability and we’re going to help them be able to do that.
Tyler Williams, CTO and Founder at CSQ
Williams: I think the big one right now is the delta-8 THC, especially on the CSQ side. We’re watching that and looking at how we need to adjust our standard. On November 1, we have our next Technical Advisory Committee meeting, and we’re going to be talking about the next revisions to the standard. Delta-8 is going to be one of the things we’re going to be talking about and something that we’ve been watching and trying to educate ourselves on, because there’s not just going to be delta-8, there’s other ones that are coming on the market that are going to be, you know, essentially the same as delta-8, where they’re in this gray area. We don’t want just the government to say, “Nope, you can’t do this at all.” Hopefully we can help the industry a little bit by at least providing some standardization there. That’s probably the biggest trend that we’ve been watching.
As more states legalize the use of cannabis for both medicinal and adult use, the market is growing exponentially. For growers and dispensaries, that means bringing their ‘A’ game when it comes to marketing their cannabis products – and that includes labels.
Not only do your cannabis labels need to be compliant with regulations, but you also need to make sure they stand out from the competitors. However, while creating a label seems like it should be easy, it can be a challenge to navigate the complex and murky legal landscape.
But don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Let’s take a look at the key federal regulations you need to be aware of, what NOT to put on cannabis labels and expert advice to help you find the perfect label material for your brand. Let’s get started.
Cannabis Labeling Requirements: What You Need to Know
As of now, cannabis has not been ruled legal in all 50 states. However, states where cannabis is legalized determine their own set of rules and guidelines. These legislative guidelines are constantly being updated and revised for the labeling and packaging of cannabis products, so staying compliant can be challenging for dispensaries and manufacturers.
Since packaging laws vary by state, it’s important to follow general federal regulations for your product, as well as check your state for cannabis-specific label requirements.
At the very least, you should understand and follow cannabis labeling regulations in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). Let’s dive right into the basic elements that FDCA requires when labeling cannabis products.
- Name and Location of Business: It is critical to always include the name and location of your business on both the inner and outer information panel. In doing so, customers always have a way to contact you for any questions. If you are worried about taking up too much space, a QR code is a great way to offer additional information.
- Product Identity: Is your product meant to be used for adult or medicinal use? You must include what your cannabis product is or does on the Product Display Panel (PDP) so it’s easy for customers to locate.
- Net Quantity of Contents: Net quantity refers to the total weight or volume of a finished product (excluding packaging) and is federally mandated on labels. For packaged liquid cannabis products, net quantity should be labeled in fluid measure. Meanwhile, packaged solid, semi-solid and viscous cannabis products should be labeled in dry weight.
- Warning Statements: Since cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, it’s recommended to include warning statements for the specific product types. For example, the warning statement should stay “for medical use only” for all medical cannabis products.
- List of Ingredients: You must include a complete declaration of all ingredients in your cannabis product. This must be listed on the informational panel on the outer packaging. If there is no outer packaging, then it must be placed on the product package itself.
- Disclosure of Critical Facts: In general, this includes critical information that customers would want to know when buying your product. This can include:
- Suggested use for the product
- Application instructions
- Expiration date
What NOT To Put On a Cannabis Label
Proper cannabis labeling can ensure you remain compliant with regulations and legal requirements. Without compliance, you won’t be able to sell your products and could lead to a hefty fine – and nobody wants that! Here are the things you should stay away from adding to your label:
Unapproved Health Claims: As of now, both federal law and state laws do not recognize cannabis as a dietary supplement or substance that can help prevent, cure or treat serious diseases. For that reason, your safest bet is to stay away from making any false health claims on labels and websites.
Obscured Fonts: Text and font issues can muddle the look of your cannabis label and land you into compliance issues. Most states require cannabis labels to have a font and text size that is prominent, clear and easy to read for information panels. Therefore, it is critical to find typography that showcases your brand while maintaining compliance with federal and state regulations.
Faulty Ingredient List: Cannabis labels must accurately include the types of compounds present, it’s percentage and dosage found in the product. Plus, it is required that all cannabis products include cannabinoid profiles and provide a list of any active ingredients.
Considerations for Labeling Materials
To cut through the noise in a highly competitive retail environment, it’s critical to carefully consider the label materials for your cannabis product. Here are some things to consider.
Label Material Choice: Polypropylene or Paper
Take into account what your cannabis product is (tincture, gummies, etc.) when choosing your label material. For example, if it’s a liquid cannabis product, your label can come into contact with the liquid itself, causing damage and risk the label falling off over time. For that reason, the polypropylene label would be the better choice because it’s waterproof, oil-resistant and offers more durability. On the other hand, if your cannabis product does not require a lot of protection and you are looking for a more affordable option, then paper labels would be the better option.
Coating Choice: Matte or Glossy
Choosing between matte or glossy finish depends on your preferred brand aesthetic. If you are looking to dazzle some customers and have a vibrant design on your cannabis label, then it’s best to choose a glossy finish because it holds the ink better. As a result, your label design will appear striking and crisp when printed! But, maybe that’s not the vibe of your cannabis brand so you’re looking for something more traditional. If so, a matte finish is a better choice because it absorbs some of the ink – producing that vintage, distressed look!
Your cannabis products deserve to stand out and shine in this booming market. But your product won’t even make it to the market if you are not following label requirements. Proper cannabis labeling ensures that the product is compliant, builds trust with your customers and boosts your credibility within the space. Since requirements are constantly evolving in this new industry, you must always triple-check with both federal and state regulations for the most up-to-date information in regards to cannabis product labeling. In doing so, you’ll be able to design an enticing package with proper labels that will earn heart eyes from consumers, while providing essential information about your product.
Many people associate cannabis with eco-friendly, counter-cultural movements, but we know the environmental impacts of the cannabis industry are significant. Given the climate crisis, cannabis production companies have a responsibility to ensure future demands of the industry are met in an environmentally sustainable way. We also know that as the world is seeing the impacts of climate change, consumers are changing their spending habits 1. As a result, companies also have the financial incentive to seriously consider implementing more environmental policies, to align their interests with the interests of consumers. Unfortunately, restrictions on cannabis research and the legal industry create barriers to implementing many environmentally friendly alternatives in production. However, this does not give us an excuse to do nothing while we wait – there are many steps that can be taken while we work to overcome these barriers. Our team at Delic Labs aims to help companies ensure the environmental and economic sustainability of the cannabis industry. So, we did some research and developed the Cannabis Better Future (CBF) concept, a guide that considers the impacts of cannabis cultivation and processing on the environment. The pillars of CBF are:
- Use of renewable/recyclable materials in production
The packaging used for legal cannabis products is infamously excessive. A standard 3.5-grams of dried cannabis is estimated to come packaged in more than 70 grams of plastic. This seemingly redundant packaging is done to meet regulations surrounding cannabis packaging that often require single-use plastic with labels and warnings at specific sizes 2. Despite this, there is work being done to get biodegradable packaging approved in the industry.
More companies, such as Knot Plastic, are using plant-based materials to provide medical-grade biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic 3. As members of the industry, we should support these companies and call for regulations to approve biodegradable packaging. As for immediate actions that can be taken, we can turn to companies that reduce the amount of plastic from the industry that ends up in landfills. The Tweed x TerraCycle Cannabis Packaging Recycling Program accepts all cannabis containers from licensed producers in Canada – free of charge – and melts down the plastic to create new products 4. This includes tins, plastic bags, tubes and bottles with child-proof caps. The program has saved more than 165,000 containers from ending up in landfills.
- Upcycle biomass waste
It is estimated that for every pound of cannabis harvested, up to 4.5 pounds of plant waste is generated 5. Cannabis biomass waste can be discarded in four different ways: via landfill, composting, in-vessel digestion or incineration 6. Cannabis bio-waste usually ends up in landfills because this is the cheapest method. However, landfill disposal represents a missed opportunity for companies to use biomass waste for economic and environmentally-friendly uses.
To reduce landfill waste, some companies are looking at sustainable bio-circular solutions, where cannabis biomass is converted into something of industrial use such as compost, bio-plastics and paper packaging for cannabis products 7. The easiest way to reuse cannabis biomass with current regulations in place is to upcycle it to produce compost and greywater that can be used for industrial cultivation 8. Currently, bleach is commonly used to remove THC from biomass, making it unfit to be used for these purposes 6. However, Micron Waste Technologies Inc. have shown enzymatic denaturation can be adopted on the industrial scale to remove THC from the biomass, resulting in reusable water and compostable matter 8. Turning to this alternative method would also reduce the amount of required fertilizer and replace bleach with a more environmentally-friendly solution.
- Recycle production side streams
Terpenes are the compounds in cannabis that give it distinctive aromas and flavors sought after by consumers.During the cannabis drying stage, over 30% of terpenes can be lost along with the water phase from the product 9. This terpene-containing water phase gets trapped in drying rooms and decarboxylation ovens and is usually thrown out. To reintroduce the terpenes in their products, companies usually purchase them 10.However, they instead could be recapturing terpenes that are otherwise going to waste, and re-introducing them into their products. Recapturing terpenes would not only reduce the production and shipment energy that goes along with purchased terpenes, but also the costs of buying them.
There are many other wasted by-products that can be recycled. Ethanol that has been used as extraction solvent can be reused as cleaning solvent, reducing the need to purchase ethanol separately for cleaning purposes. Further, the condensation caught in HVACs can be recycled to water plants.
- Optimize production energy efficiency
A study by Summers et al. 11 found that from producing one kilogram of dried cannabis flower, the emitted greenhouse gasses emissions range from 2,283 to 5,184 kg of CO2. Electricity used for indoor cultivation is the major culprit in producing these emissions. In fact, over $6 billion is spent annually to power industrial cannabis growth facilities in the U.S. alone12. Growing outdoors is significantly more energy efficient; however, non-auto flowering, high-THC cannabis plants depend on the specific timing of daylight (and darkness) to grow properly 13. Optimal conditions for these plants are not always achievable in outdoor setting. Meanwhile, auto-flowering plants that are hearty outdoors are generally lower in THC content 14. Promoting research into generating more stabilized cannabis cultivars may help outdoor growing be a more feasible solution. Given the recent work being done with genetically modified and transgenic plants, upregulating THC production in cannabis and increasing the heartiness in different climates is well within the realm of possibility 15–17.
In the meantime, cultivation facilities can do their part to maintain a controlled growth environment with reduced energy waste. Companies that are still using high-intensity sodium lights should consider switching to high-efficiency LED bulbs 12. These are a good alternative option as they produce less heat, and as a result, require less mechanical cooling. It has been shown that many plants, including cannabis, might even do better under blue-red LED lights 18,19. Growth under these conditions correlated with an increase in THC and CBD levels, and overall larger plants 18. In addition to low energy consumption, LED lamps have flexible mobility and a tunable spectrum range. This makes it possible to mediate the spectrum specifically for cannabis crops by controlling each spectral range and manipulating spectral quality and light intensity precisely. Finally, lights can also be brought closer to plants, to further reduce the amount of mechanical cooling needed.
- Utilize high-precision processes
Reducing energy use while maintaining production rates can only be done if the process is optimized. Our own research improves process optimization in the cannabis industry. A key component of industrial optimization is reducing wasted time on various machines. For cannabis producers, this machine “junk time” can accumulate when the instrumentation is not progressing the reaction.
Reducing energy use in this case means ensuring machines are not in operation if they are not progressing the reaction. For example, many companies spend approximately two hours on the decarboxylation step because decarboxylation is always complete after two hours 20; however, decarboxylations are often complete in as little as thirty minutes 21. Companies can save energy by installing a monitor on decarboxylation systems to stop reactions once they are complete.
Reducing the environmental impacts of the cannabis industry is crucial to combat the developing climate crisis. While lifting restrictions on cannabis research and mitigating stigmas surrounding the legal industry will be what ultimately paves the way for meaningful changes toward a sustainable industry, cannabis companies cannot wait for regulatory changes to occur before considering eco-friendly practices. As outlined by CBF, there are existing actions which all companies can take to reduce their carbon footprint immediately. Delic Labs, and many other companies we have noted, aim to support companies in making these decisions for a better future for cannabis.
- Statista Research Department. Share of consumers worldwide who have changed the products and services they use due to concern about climate change in 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1106653/change-made-consumer-bevaviour-concern-climate-change-worldwide/ (2021).
- Akeileh, O., Moyer, E., Sim, P. & Vissandjee Amarsy, L. Chronic Waste: Strategies to Reduce Waste and Encourage Environmentally-Friendly Packaging in Canada’s Legal Cannabis. https://www.mcgill.ca/maxbellschool/files/maxbellschool/policy_lab_2020_-_strategies_to_reduce_waste_and_encourage_environmentally-friendly_packaging_in_canadas_legal_cannabis_industry.pdf (2020).
- Bauder, P. Ry Russell of Knot Plastic️: 5 Things We Must Do to Inspire the Next Generation about Sustainability and the Environment. (2020).
- Waste360 Staff. Tweed, TerraCycle Take Cannabis Packaging Recycling Across Canada. (2019).
- Peterson, E. Industry Report: The State of Hemp and Cannabis Waste. CompanyWeek (2019).
- Commendatore, C. The Complicated World of Cannabis Waste Generation (Part One). Waste 360 (2019).
- Drotleff, L. Cannabis-based packaging and paper could reduce waste, promote sustainability. MJBiz Daily(2020).
- Waste 360 staff. Micron Secures U.S. Design Patent for Waste Treatment Tech. Waste 360 (2019).
- Challa, S. R. DRYING KINETICS AND THE EFFECTS OF DRYING METHODS ON QUALITY (CBD, TERPENES AND COLOR) OF HEMP (Cannabis sativa L.) BUDS. (2020).
- Erickson, B. Cannabis industry gets crafty with terpenes. chemical and engineering news (2019).
- Summers, H. M., Sproul, E. & Quinn, J. C. The greenhouse gas emissions of indoor cannabis production in the United States. Nature Sustainability 4, (2021).
- Reott, J. How Does Legalized Cannabis Affect Energy Use? Alliance to Save Energy (2020).
- When To Plant Cannabis Outside: A State By State Guide. aPotforPot.comhttps://apotforpot.com/blogs/apotforpot/when-to-plant-cannabis-outside-a-state-by-state-guide/ (2020).
- 15 Pros And Cons of Autoflowering Cannabis. aPotforPot.com https://apotforpot.com/blogs/apotforpot/15-pros-and-cons-of-autoflowering-seeds/ (2019).
- Ye, X. et al. Engineering the Provitamin A (β-Carotene) Biosynthetic Pathway into (Carotenoid-Free) Rice Endosperm. Science 287, 303–305 (2000).
- Giddings, G., Allison, G., Brooks, D. & Carter, A. Transgenic plants as factories for biopharmaceuticals. Nature Biotechnology 18, 1151–1155 (2000).
- Hu, H. & Xiong, L. Genetic Engineering and Breeding of Drought-Resistant Crops. Annual Review of Plant Biology 65, 715–741 (2014).
- Wei, X. et al. Wavelengths of LED light affect the growth and cannabidiol content in Cannabis sativa L. Industrial Crops and Products 165, (2021).
- Sabzalian, M. R. et al. High performance of vegetables, flowers, and medicinal plants in a red-blue LED incubator for indoor plant production. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 34, (2014).
- LunaTechnologies. Decarboxylation: What Is It and Why Is It Important? LunaTechnologies.
- Shah, S. et al. Fast, Easy, and Reliable Monitoring of THCA and CBDA Decarboxylation in Cannabis Flower and Oil Samples Using Infrared Spectroscopy. (2021).
Cannabis and hemp derived concentrates are a rapidly growing product category. Formed by extracting cannabis using a variety of methods including ethanol, butane hash oil and CO2, concentrates find their way into consumer packaged goods as ingredients for infused products or as stand-alone products such as resins, rosins, distillates and hash.
Precision Extraction Solutions (Precision) was founded in 2014 to provide equipment and services to cannabis and hemp processors. In October 2021, Agrify (NASDAQ: AGFY) purchased Precision in a $50M cash and stock deal. The move positions Agrify to offer end-to-end infrastructure solutions for cannabis cultivators and processors.
We interviewed Nick Tennant, SVP of Innovation at Precision, now a division of Agrify. Nick founded Precision after seeing a need for quality equipment in concentrate processing. Prior to Precision, Nick was involved in a vertically integrated cannabis business in Michigan where he gained experience in cultivation, extraction and retail.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Nick Tennant: I’ve been in cannabis about 17 years now. I had family in Colorado and California who I started to interface with around 2006. Around 2008, Michigan passed their cannabis law, and we were one of the first businesses to get licensed. The subsequent five years from that law getting passed, up to 2013, I did pretty much everything in terms of commercial cannabis – cultivation, retail, edible manufacturing, you name it. Concentrates didn’t really exist in a meaningful way; the products definitely were there, but the technology wasn’t. I looked at technology at the time and it was very primitive, so we made a shift to focusing on concentrates. We launched Precision in 2014 and we basically shot out of a cannon, doing a million dollars in sales in our first 90 days. Since then, we grew the company up to 60 employees and substantial amounts of revenue. We sold Precision to Agrify in October of this year.
Green: Tell me about that transition from a cannabis products company to an equipment manufacturer.
Tennant: It was a gradual transition. As I started to see the extraction niche expand, I really started to put more time and resources into it. When we launched Precision and were met with such success in just the first 90 days, I knew that I had to abandon everything else I was doing to focus on this. My former partners took over the businesses, like the grows. We worked out individual circumstances regarding how I was going to leave those businesses and focus full time at Precision.
Green: So, big news recently with the acquisition, congratulations on that! Tell me about Agrify and why a deal with Agrify made sense to you.
Tennant: The strategic rationale is that we are providing an end-to-end infrastructure solution. They have the horticultural aspect, an excellent public vehicle, and plenty of cash on the balance sheet to continue to scale the business and acquire additional constituents within the cannabis infrastructure. Getting to the point where you can exit the businesses, it’s a long road, and our business is very niche. We were seeking to partner with t a bigger player in the industry with more resources that would help us to scale what we were trying to do, and Agrify was the perfect fit.
Green: You’ve got several areas of focus at Precision ranging from ethanol extraction, distillation, and butane hash oil (BHO) extraction. Where are you focusing the business going forward?
Tennant: Going forward we want to provide that end-to-end one-stop shop infrastructural solution for any cannabis products company. We want Agrify to become the dominant and fastest growing player in the cannabis industry for infrastructural solutions, whether that’s horticulture or extraction. We’re continuing to expand our product portfolio into other niches so that if you’re building a cannabis facility, you only need to come to one company and the process is as simple as possible.
Green: What kinds of products are you seeing the consumer gravitate towards?
Tennant: I think that cannabis will remain to be very artisanal because of the uniqueness of the plant. If you look at similar industries, I could compare it to craft beer or winemaking. I think that hydrocarbon and water hashes will continue to play a substantial role. I also think that ethanol and distillate-based products will hold market share just like the Budweiser and Kendall Jacksons of the world.
People love the native sort of essence of the plant, that this is a plant sort of bestowed upon us by the universe with all these unique healing and restorative properties. I think that trying to capture those properties and that native essence of what’s going on within the genome of the plant and translate that into a product is going to be the theme that continues to dominate, and I think that for several reasons. For the same reason somebody will go to Whole Foods, and they’ll buy the local organic grown fruit or vegetables, people are going to gravitate towards artisanal cannabis products. People that consume cannabis, generally speaking, are more naturalistic or homeopathic than most.
Green: Precision has technology for a range of extraction methods where the focus has been on cannabis. Are you seeing any new markets outside of cannabis?
Tennant: Yes. We’ve dealt with varieties of different botanical extraction companies over the years, but they’re a very small segment of our business. We’re a cannabis business. Non-cannabis extraction may make up less than 1% of our business so it’s very small.
Green: What trends are you following in the cannabis industry?
Tennant: Consolidation, I would say, is a big one. MSOs are consolidating and buying up the small players. The second major trend is regulation, and what’s going on in DC. Beyond that, you obviously have new states coming online, shifting consumer trends, things like that. I would say these last two are less impactful from a macro standpoint, but nonetheless, still things that we follow.
Green: Following up on consolidation, do you see a demand for larger systems now?
Tennant: I’d say 95% of what we do is under 2000 pounds a day, which we consider artisanal. You’re not going to see large scale production consolidation because you have fragmentation by state. It would be most efficient for a cannabis manufacturer to manufacture everything in one location but it’s just not possible with the state laws. It’s very fragmented. Somebody like a Trulieve might have 20 different manufacturing operations, all running similar processes. Perhaps we will see more upon national legalization and the opening of state borders.
Green: What in your personal life or in the cannabis industry are you most interested in learning about?
Tennant: I am constantly learning. That’s just how my brain is, and the type of person that I am. I’m interested in a variety of topics, but I think I’m most interested in how capital markets are going to materialize and substantiate around the federal legalization because we’re in this weird space of cannabis. It’s weird, because you have a boom industry that’s generating massive amounts of revenue and massive amounts of tax dollars, but you must remind yourself that there is no real liquidity in this market, meaning you can’t finance things. A typical cannabis company that wants to go out and get capital is getting rates between 16 to 18%. There’s just a capital restriction since cannabis is a Schedule I substance, and these large lenders don’t want to play into that.
The question in my head and the big catalyst for the entire industry is: what happens when we get a descheduling, decriminalization and/or legalization on a federal level? How does that affect the large funds sentiment to deploy this zero-interest rate capital that we’re seeing in the rest of the world? We’re seeing it in mortgages. We’re seeing it in every aspect of the world. There’s free money printing, but it’s not flowing into cannabis because those federal laws are prohibiting it as such. Ultimately, as more infrastructure comes online, these companies are not going to have to scrape by to build a $3 million lab. They can finance it at a reasonable interest rate, and the infrastructure can come online.
That’s going to be better for the consumer. There will be more infrastructure, more products, more research and development, more retail locations. Everything gets better, more convenient, and more robust. I would think that finance interest rates are the largest lever within the industry right now, and because of that, you’ll likely see cannabis capital markets go pretty crazy when legalization comes around.
Green: Okay, great. That concludes the interview.
Tennant: Thanks, Aaron.
Ross Kirsh launched Dymapak in New York City in 2010. Born into a family with a storied history in manufacturing, he founded the company after working for several years in Hong Kong where his interests, skills and passions for product development took shape.
Filling a niche for smell-proof bags in smoke shops, the business grew as he immersed himself in cannabis markets around the country. After designing and inventing a patented, first of its kind child-resistant pouch for Colorado’s first adult use sale in 2014, the business has continued to achieve global scale and today is recognized as the worldwide leader in cannabis packaging.
While the cannabis industry has long drawn the ire of environmentalists because of its energy problem when it comes to cultivation, the packaging side of the business faces very similar issues; the cannabis industry also has a plastic problem. In most states where cannabis is legal, state regulations require producers and dispensaries to package all cannabis products in opaque, child-resistant packaging, with several states requiring dispensaries to place entire orders inside large, child-resistant exit bags prior to customers leaving with their purchase.
Dymapak, led by Kirsh, is working on initiatives to help address environmental sustainability in cannabis packaging and turn interest into action industry wide. Ross will offer insights and the business’s action plan at the upcoming Cannabis Packaging Virtual Conference December 1. And ahead of that chat, we caught up with him to learn more.
Aaron G. Biros: Tell me a bit about yourself and how Dymapak came to be. What brought you to the cannabis space and where you are today?
Ross Kirsh: My family has deep roots in manufacturing. Back in the mid 1970s, my uncle and his brothers all launched separate manufacturing businesses after one of the brothers moved to Hong Kong to open a handbag and luggage factory. The 70s happened to be a unique time to work abroad in Hong Kong given few US companies were operating there when China first announced its open-door policy around 1979. And as you can expect, he became a sourcing agent for many large companies in the US who needed trustworthy boots on the ground.
I went to college, pursued IT and in the back of my mind always knew product development and the manufacturing process was too interesting not to follow. I already knew Hong Kong was ripe for learning entrepreneurship so I went abroad to learn more, and fell in love with the culture, the opportunity and the people. Immediately after graduation, I moved to Hong Kong. I began working with my family, who taught me the trade – end to end. I helped develop several product lines and lived next to one of our factories in southern China to immerse myself.
After 3.5 years abroad, I began running sales operations back in the US. Fast forward a year back in the states, I had unique customers that owned tobacco and smoke shops telling me that cannabis packaging existed in the market, but not really what everyone was looking for. In truth, the business was born the minute a customer said, “Can you make me a retail ready smell-proof bag?” I figured I could, and the rest – as they say – is history.
What began and was established in 2010 truly took shape at an accelerated pace in 2013, when my relationship with one of the first dispensary owner/operators in Denver – Ean Seeb of Denver Relief – came with a golden opportunity; Invent a child resistant package for cannabis, one did not exist but it was mandated under Colorado’s first-ever recreational cannabis regulations. I spent 7 out of the next 8 weeks in China developing a solution and am proud to say our bag was used in the first recreational sale when Colorado went legal in January 2014. From there, the business grew rapidly, and organically throughout the industry.
Biros: Environmental sustainability is a big issue for cannabis. Not just on the energy intensive side, but particularly when it comes to packaging and its plastic problem. How is your company approaching this issue and are you working on any initiatives to eliminate or reduce plastic waste?
Kirsh: We recognize firsthand the issues that plastic presents. While the material is full of advantages, the disadvantages are both imminent and critical to understand.
What many don’t realize is, for most cannabis packaging that’s recyclable to actually BE recycled, the customer must first find a drop off location, either at a dispensary or elsewhere that accepts the material. The process relies exclusively on the consumer to take action because the products cannot be recycled curbside. And unfortunately, the stats show that very few consumers take the time to bring the packaging back in order to recycle it.
So, yes, we produce recyclable bags in our portfolio, but we really want to get to the source of the problem here – pollution. We looked in a few different areas. And we developed a different bag made with 30% post-consumer resin, meaning 30% is made from reused plastics.
Even more, we recently partnered with a socially conscious, industry leader in the space, Plastic Bank, which builds regenerative, recycling ecosystems in under-developed communities. They work to collect plastic waste from the ocean – extracting it to ensure its opportunity to enter the recycling ecosystem. Through our partnership with Plastic Bank, we’ll help prevent more than six million plastic bottles from entering the ocean this year alone. And I’m really proud of that.
Biros: Where do you see the cannabis packaging industry going in the next five years?
Kirsh: I think that’s a fascinating question. Sustainability will play a huge role in the future of this market. Just like we are seeing single use plastic bags being phased out across the country, we’ll see that happen to other areas too as part of this larger trend.
I predict more on-time and on-demand needs in the future; the ability to see traceability in real time, similar to the pharmaceutical industry. People will expect batch numbers and lot numbers, with data, in real time. It’ll become central to the business.
Gaining and cultivating trust will be another big hurdle for companies in this sector soon. With federal legalization comes a greater sense of professionalism and more sophistication for the market.
Yet, the continued pressure on environmental sustainability will be the biggest change in the next five years. When you look at sustainability in the packaging industry, paying attention to the format or choice of material should be top of mind. For example, if you’re shipping a glass jar, the amount of space that takes up in a shipping container has a huge impact on the environment, what’s called a hidden impact. One shipping container can hold millions of bags, but you need eight shipping containers for glass jars to get the same amount of storing capacity. That’s about efficiency, which is a bit more hidden, and I hope that consumers will become more and more knowledgeable about what companies are doing to stay environmentally sustainable.
Biros: Ross, thank you very much for your time today.
Kirsh: My pleasure, Aaron.
Managing compliance for cannabis companies remains a challenge in the United States with a constantly evolving set of regulations that differ at the federal, state, county and city level. Regulators can either fine or force non-compliant companies to cease operations resulting in setbacks for investors and operators.
Simplifya is a software as a service company specializing in cannabis quality and regulatory compliance. The company’s suite of products takes the guesswork out of confusing and continually changing state and local regulations. Featuring SOPs, badge tracking, document storage, tailored reporting and employee accountability features, the company’s custom audit software reduces the time clients spend on compliance by up to 45 percent.
We interviewed Brooke Butler, VP of Partnerships at Simplifya. Prior to joining Simplifya, Brooke worked internationally as a macroeconomic analyst.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Brooke Butler: My story is a little crazy. I was working as a macroeconomic investment research analyst for developing countries and wanted to move back to the US after being gone for a long time. Oddly enough, I had gotten malaria a few times when I was living in Nigeria, and I was very sick. They couldn’t figure out anything to help me. Cannabis of all things, which was illegal there, but very easy to find, was the only thing that was able to help me eat and gain enough weight to be a functioning, healthy human again.
So, I wanted to move back to the US. I have this very unique and strange skill set for figuring out regulatory and policy regimes, and translating that into advice for business owners and investors. Serendipitously, the last place I worked at was Sri Lanka and the CEO of Simplifya is from Sri Lanka. We met just based on me wanting to be friends with somebody in Denver who was from Sri Lanka. It happened that he had just started a compliance company in partnership with the present-day Vicente Sederberg law firm out of Colorado. And the rest is history. Five years later, I’m still with the company. We’ve grown from one state to now helping licensed operators of any kind in 23 states, it’s been a lot of fun.
Green: So, you joined back in 2016?
Butler: I actually joined in the middle of 2017.
Green: Can you speak to Simplifya’s product and process?
Butler: Absolutely. Simplifya was started because we noticed that when Colorado went adult use you had all these new licensees coming into the space that wanted to run a good business. They didn’t want to get shut down. They wanted to have great operations, but they didn’t know how to read through 800 pages of legal narrative and extract from that what they can and can’t do. Vicente Sederberg was going out and doing on-site compliance checks for these guys and telling them, “Hey, you need to fix these 10 or 15 things.” They’d come back in six months, and the operators were like, “Well, yeah, we still didn’t fix it, because we didn’t know how to fix it and they changed the rules again.” So, it was this constantly evolving thing.
We wanted to find an easy-to-understand set of regulatory checklists that any operator could use to gauge if they had any problem areas in their business. When they did have an inspector come by, we wanted to make it so that operators weren’t sweating bullets or worried about things like, “Well, do we have our cameras pointed in the right direction? Do we have enough video backlog? Are my employee badges in the right place? Are we having our restricted access area in the right place?” All those crazy little minute details that they have to worry about. So, that’s kind of how we got started. We were just trying to find a way to make it simpler and more affordable for anyone that’s brave enough to get a license and really operate in the legal market – not just survive – but really be able to thrive and spend more time on their business and building world-class products and less time worrying about waste disposal and how to do all these crazy things that they’re up against.
Then we moved into helping with standard operating procedures. We have these templates that we tie to the state regulations so operators can then add their proprietary steps and know that it’s built on top of a compliant foundation. But probably the most important thing we have is a great document management system that gives them a cheat sheet.
California is particularly nasty, as operators have well over 100 documents that they’re required to keep for a long time. Again, we’re trying to make sure that they have an easy way to verify that all their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when it comes to the million compliance requirements that they have. A lot of people, especially new entrants, think that compliance is just inventory management and as long as they take care of that, they’re good. Unfortunately, I wish that was true, but they’ve got four or five hundred very minute things that they must worry about. If they don’t take care of those, they could get shut down, or lose their license and business.
Green: Is your document management system proprietary?
Butler: We’re a software as a service company. It’s very easy to use. We wanted to make sure that whether it was a budtender or a trimmer, anyone at your company is not only going to be able to use our software very easily but understand the rules. We write everything at a 12th grade reading level. It’s distilled out of all that legal jargon that a regular businessperson doesn’t understand – and shouldn’t have to, they’re not a lawyer – and written in really simplified terms that anyone could understand. Our position for cannabis is that compliance is having all your employees do the exact same thing, every single day, the right way. And that’s not easy. It must be from the top down. Everyone on your team must be doing things the right way. Even if it’s not fun, and not very cool, they must follow all these rules and be compliant. This is how we get the privilege to actually run a cannabis business, and grow, manufacture or run a retail store.
Green: So you mentioned SOPs. Is there also a quality aspect to the service?
Butler: There is, yes. One of my favorite things about what we’ve been able to do is that our clients have been our biggest assets, because they’re telling us, “Here’s our problem areas, or what we need help with.” And what we’ve seen is, as states mature after legalization, there’s a lot more quality control, a lot more quality management. That not only just becomes important, but also gets written into the regulations. So, we do work with a lot of the quality teams to make sure that their recipes are being followed and are tied to what the state regulators have said that they’re supposed to be doing.
Green: Do you support GMP and GAP?
Butler: Yes. It’s really exciting. A couple of our technical analysts have received GMP training and certifications. As of now, we cover five states that have GMP-compliant SOPs, California being the largest one of them. All our SOPs for manufacturers in California, and in places like Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada and Michigan are written with full GMP compliance. Those get married with all the crazy state, city and county rules.
Green: Do you provide auditing as well or is that outsourced?
Butler: We give them a tool so they can self-audit. Then we also have an audit tool that third party auditors can use. So, let’s say that you’re a manufacturer, and you want a lawyer or consultant to come and do a check on your facility. Because you’re so close to the audit, you want to make sure you don’t miss anything. You can use our software to quickly do that. The beauty of the audit reports is that they’re consistent and they make it easy to see if you have any issues as well as how to remediate them, and then how to prove that it was fixed. So, if you do have a regulator come by, you’re able to say, “Look, we’re doing our best. We are fixing issues when we find them. We have documented that all our employees are trained on these.” So, when the operators do get audited, everything should be in good standing.
Green: You have 23 different states that you’re in and hundreds of city and county jurisdictions. How do you manage change between all the jurisdictions as they’re constantly evolving?
“How do we help social equity applicants get loans and financing?”Butler: It’s constantly evolving. That’s why we’ve built Simplifya and made it a software subscription company. We will notify you when, let’s say Oakland, decides to update its waste management policy, or their security regulations. That will prompt you to log in. We make it very easy for you to see what regulations are new so you can run through and check on those things very quickly and make sure you get into compliance. It’s not easy.
Most of our staff and our team are lawyers, or regulatory analysts. They probably have the worst job in cannabis because they are literally just sifting through constant sets of regulations. They’re on the phone with regulators trying to get clarification when something changes. A lot of it is a manual process with our team, but we do have proprietary technology systems set up to help us monitor. It’s kind of a dual effort, using technology to help us as well as trying to get clarity and stay ahead of city meetings or state regulatory meetings on what changes are coming down the pipe so we’re not surprised when there are new regulation changes coming out.
Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?
Butler: I am most interested in the finance side of things. How can we help more of these companies get an actual bank account at reasonable rates that won’t kick them out in six months? How do we help social equity applicants get loans and financing? That’s a huge challenge that people don’t really like to talk about, but that is a big issue out there. How do we get insurance companies to cover all the things that need to be covered for a regular business that aren’t currently allowed for cannabis, again, and at reasonable rates?
As a consumer, I want an easier way to pay. I don’t want to have to worry about going to the ATM and worrying if I’ve got enough money to buy whatever new product I want. Payment processing, I think, is something that’s really interesting. We’re moving into that space at Simplifya. We’re really excited about it. We’re launching our payments product called TENDR, in November. We have some great large institutions that are excited to get back into or get into the cannabis space for the first time that I think is going to really excite people. If we can show people that these businesses are compliant, and now we can make the compliance requirements for them, the financial institutions easier, then we’re going to see better access for consumers to these types of products.
Green: Thanks Brooke. That concludes the interview.
Butler: Thanks Aaron!