Cannabis retail is becoming more and more commonplace in the United States. According to a consumer trends survey by North Hollywood-based cannabis brand Ganja Goddess Inc., 90% of respondents said they used online ordering and delivery services to purchase cannabis. Around 60% reported that online ordering and delivery would continue to be their preferred method of purchase post-pandemic. The pandemic hugely impacted the delivery market, pushing sales up 300% by the end of 2020. However, in a lot of states, brick-and-mortar stores remain illegal. Delivery services allow cannabis companies to reach customers in areas where dispensaries are not allowed. While cannabis delivery is an incredible opportunity for companies to reach new customers they would not otherwise be able to, following the law can be difficult in an environment with a patchwork of local laws and changing regulations. So, what do you need to know about regulatory adherence to stay ahead of the curve?
The short answer is it’s complicated. Each state has dramatically different laws regarding cannabis delivery, and laws can vary by jurisdiction. Some states allow full access to adult use cannabis, some only allow medical cannabis and some completely ban delivery, making it tricky to adhere to the law. There are currently 6 states that allow cannabis delivery: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon. Others like New York are taking the steps to allow delivery with careful regulation. With more states legalizing cannabis sales every year, delivery laws in existing delivery states are evolving and adapting to licensing changes. California introduced major changes to laws on January 1, 2023. These changes included allowing drivers to carry double the amount of product (up to $10,000 worth), no longer requiring vehicle inventory to be allocated or pre-purchased, and allowing curbside delivery for all licensed retailers. These changes to the largest cannabis market in the world showcase how much delivery is still changing and being regulated, and stresses the value of staying up to date on the latest laws and regulations.
Another aspect of delivery to consider is licensing specifically for delivery. Like regulations, licensing varies state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, in Massachusetts there are two types of licenses. Licensed providers must register as either a Marijuana Courier or as a Marijuana Delivery Operator. Couriers are allowed to earn a fee for delivering cannabis products from licensed retailers to consumers, and operators may buy and sell cannabis products wholesale, as well as deliver them. In Colorado, delivery requires two permits, however, a holder of both permits can still get in trouble if they deliver to an area or jurisdiction that has not affirmatively permitted delivery.
A big win for delivery services came when Apple allowed cannabis delivery apps on iPhones in June 2021, with downloads restricted to states that allow adult use cannabis. Even then, a lot of individual counties or cities within adult use states still prohibit the delivery of cannabis. This patchwork of regulation makes adherence tricky, and makes certain software features like real-time driver tracking and proof-of-age verification crucial to delivery operations. With competition increasing it’s even more important for cannabis delivery operators to provide an outstanding experience for customers every time. One way they can achieve this is by improving their cannabis delivery software. According to cannabis last mile delivery management software provider Onfleet’s study, 72% of cannabis delivery operators said a delivery management tool was “critical to running delivery operations.” Delivery software also helps companies stay compliant with local regulations. Route planning allows your drivers to stay within legal zones. These platforms can also capture images of state-issued ID for age verification and record customer signatures so drivers can focus on ensuring customers are getting the best experience.
Although highly dependent on local, state and federal laws, the cannabis delivery space shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And if (or when) cannabis is legalized on a federal level, it would pave the way for major corporations like Uber and Amazon to enter the space – Uber is already taking steps in Canada. Whether that’s a good thing is up for debate, but delivery certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Depending on regulations and the market’s next moves, we will see a variety of delivery models and services in the coming years. Delivery services are the future of cannabis, providing customers with ease of access and personalized deliveries as well as benefiting retailers by lowering overhead costs and providing options for easy, quick customer service. Just make sure to check local laws before you confirm a delivery order, even in states where cannabis is legal.
Like any industry, cannabis can experience ups and downs, especially when it comes to a doors-open retail business. Dispensaries that operate in towns or cities that attract tourists experience this more than anyone, seeing sales spike during the busy months and reach lows during the off-season.
We spoke with the folks at Dragon Hemp, a hemp retailer based in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons. As a brand that has first-hand experience with seasonal spikes, they were able to provide more context when it comes to anticipating the ebbs and flows of seasonal retail cannabis sales.
What is the Best Way to Prepare for Post-Busy Season Retail Lulls?
In Sag Harbor, Dragon Hemp awaits a spike during the busy summer months, as well as lulls when the tourist season is down and visitors head back to New York City and beyond, many becoming loyal online customers year-round.
According to Kevin Menard, LAc, founder of Dragon Hemp, the best way to prepare for post-busy season retail lulls is to build a community of loyal customers that take your brand home with them.
“Post-busy season lulls can be very useful in setting strategies and goals for the coming year. In our case, we do a thorough inventory review and align what we have with what we need for the upcoming peak season,” says Menard. “As the season winds down, they prepare for online orders that come from the impression left on customers in the store. “We also focus on cultivating our owned channels where we can have more direct communication with our community.”
Advice on Preparing for Busy Retail Seasons
Before the busy season is even over, it’s important to start preparing for the lull in business that’s bound to set in. For Kevin Menard and his business, preparation starts with inventory. So, what’s their secret? “Make sure you have budgeted for an inventory of your most popular items and hire excellent storytellers in both your retail locations and e-commerce marketing teams.”
Keeping an eye out on inventory management can be a great way to spend the slow months. Give brands a chance to monitor sales trends and keep up with changes in consumer preferences, putting more time and effort into online retail and social media and implementing promotions and sales online and in-person. Grow the team behind the brand, keep up with all new regulations and focus on customer loyalty to maintain trustworthiness even from afar.
Turning a Seasonal Customer Into a Lifetime E-Commerce Customer
In order to turn a seasonal customer into a life-long client, it’s important to connect beyond just the sale and product. For Dragon Hemp, the most important part is personalizing the experience for their customers: “For us, it’s all about achieving personalization with each customer,” says Menard. “Typically, a seasonal retail buyer will be opportunistic about their purchase in-store, but that purchase is indicative of a longer-term need. We try to create customer profiles based on in-store buyers and craft recommendations that fit that customer’s health needs over the long term.”
In order to turn a one-time buyer from out of state or city into a lifelong loyal customer, there are a few things to consider that can make this connection happen. First and foremost, building a relationship by maintaining impeccable customer service and personalizing the experience.
Focusing on online retail is also important in order to maintain the connection with clients. Making sure the website is in perfect shape and offer loyalty programs, incentives, promotions, sales, discounts or rewards to returning customers.
Marketing and publicity are other essentials, as you want to target those who have a long-time need that needs to be filled. Allowing for a fuss-free online shopping experience, targeting people who fall in line with the brand’s products and values, being creative and innovative when promoting the website and keeping in touch with active social media and newsletters.
How to Project Goals In Places That Swell Seasonally
It can be difficult to project year-on-year retail goals when the geographic location has a tendency to swell seasonally and have off-seasons but preparing and knowing what to expect can help with reaching those goals (and even surpassing them).
According to Menard, the secret to projecting their goals starts with their first location: “Since our first retail location in Sag Harbor, NY has been open only a year, our projections are still a work in progress! We’re using 2022 data to budget for this year, accounting for marketing efforts, increased awareness, and seasonality. We have some sensitivities built into this model based on different growth scenarios.”
The instabilities and fluctuations that come with a business that works on a seasonal tempo can be challenging when it comes to reaching and achieving specific goals, but there are things that can be done to make the whole process more seamless, and hopefully, more successful.
Looking back at previous years can be helpful in pinpointing tendencies and habits that can be observed in the consumer, and the lower sales allow space for the time that can be used in innovating and creating new products that are based on what the client base wants.
Researching not only the immediate region, but the regions that people often visit is another handy trick. Knowing who is coming, why they’re coming, and what they’re looking for can help set objectives that can be brought to reality throughout the off-season and the busy season, even experiencing more foot traffic in town. Moreover, making the most of the local events, occasions, changes and circumstances like holidays and local events can keep the brand connected to its roots and primary clients.
The off-season is a great time to set up a budget or specific monetary goals to reach, and off-season fluctuations can be added in to give a more complete idea of what the year might look like. Keeping an eye on the market by monitoring it and using forecasting models to predict results can also help set the stage for changes in the year-to-year goals.
Expanding From a Cannabis Retailer to a National E-Commerce Brand
Dragon Hemp didn’t start off with a bang, but they sure have achieved it over time. Dragon Hemp products were conceived by renowned alternative health practitioner and founder, Kevin Menard. Using hemp oil, Chinese herbs and native botanicals, they have managed to create a variety of beneficial and natural products.
“Our apothecary in Sag Harbor has been a great success, but the most rewarding aspect of the location has been the ability to have direct conversations with customers and get a deep understanding of how we can support their journey to better health,” says Menard. “We’re excited to expand our mission of helping people feel like themselves again by using next-generation natural botanicals and time-honored herbal remedies.”
As the country continues toward legal and accessible cannabis, new businesses are learning the ropes and those that have been there all along have been leading the way.
Having ups and downs in any business is to be expected, but just like any industry, knowing what to expect and what to do can make these challenges seem like less of a hassle. Building an online presence that clients connect to, developing e-commerce strategies, expanding product lines, building a loyal customer base and staying up-to-date with the latest regulations are surefire ways to stay on top of the cannabis business.
As a business owner, insurance is always a must. If you are interested in entering into the cannabis industry or you already have, it’s important to know what to expect when it comes to insuring your cannabis-related business.
That’s why we’ll be exploring what dispensary insurance is, different options for business owners and general advice regarding dispensary and other CRB insurance.
What is Dispensary Insurance?
Insurance for cannabis-related businesses refers to policies that protect the business against risk. This can include dispensaries, cultivation centers and testing labs – all of which require different levels of coverage and liability.
We spoke to Alexander Marenco, an insurance broker from Marenco Insurance, who explained what dispensary owners should know before seeking out insurance. Marenco says it’s similar to shopping for insurance for other businesess. “You need to have full details of the business and location to receive a quote.” He adds. “The applications will ask questions such as location, renovations, or improvements to the location, ownership information, payroll details, and sales or projected annual sales.”
How is Dispensary Insurance Different From Other Forms of Business Insurance?
Because non-hemp-derived cannabis is still considered a schedule one controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Act, cannabis insurance can be more expensive than regular insurance for non-cannabis businesses. Because of the risks associated with being considered a potential retailer of a controlled substance, liability policies and other options can cost a pretty penny.
Additionally, when asking Marenco about how dispensary insurance differs from other brick-and-mortar retail insurance, he says: “With more states increasingly legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, insurance carriers have started to open risk acceptability. However, since marijuana is still federally illegal, businesses will find it difficult to find multiple quotes from different carriers.”
Types of Insurance Available for Cannabis-Related Businesses
What kind of insurance is available for cannabis-related businesses? Let’s find out.
First off, it’s important to keep in mind that CRBs are at risk for a lot of things: workplace accidents, damage to property, theft, general liability and product liability. Plus, the fact that most dispensaries work on a cash-only business model until the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is approved by Congress, CRBs tend to handle big amounts of cash, further putting them at risk of theft and liability. CRB insurance can be as low as $350 and as high as $7,500 depending on the type of business and policy.
Here are some of the most common types of insurance for CRBs and what they cover:
General liability: third-party claims for bodily injury, property damage and reputational harm.
Commercial property: damage to a business-owned property.
Professional liability: third-party accusations of negligence and mistakes.
Workers’ compensation: employees’ medical bills and lost wages due to injury or illness.
Inland marine: damage or theft of business-owned property in transit.
Crop: costs from damage to seeds and plants.
With so many things to watch out for, insurance for cannabis businesses and dispensaries isn’t cheap. Here, Marenco says what CRB owners can do to keep their premiums as low as possible:
“Premiums are primarily based on sales (actual or projected). After the term expires, the insurance carrier will conduct an audit for the prior term to confirm the information from the application. The audited discrepancy will adjust the next term’s sales figures. Dispensary insurance will typically be placed through an excess & surplus market which do not provide traditional discounts.”
So, in essence, the best thing a dispensary owner can do is be honest about their projections.
Navigating premiums can be a detailed process, as we learned when speaking to Jesse Giffith, an owner of Smokeless CBD and Vape: a chain of retail shops across the twin cities Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota:
“Our shops carry insurance that has been offered with a modified rate for vape retailers. This route was not as straightforward as some traditional retail insurance options, but may offer benefits, and a better fit for coverage than other dispensary insurance options.”
A Growing Number of Dispensaries Across America
With the growing legalization and normalization of adult use, medical and hemp-derived cannabis across the nation, it should come as no surprise that the number of dispensaries across the country grows exponentially.
In 2021, the cannabis market in the U.S. was valued at 10.8 billion dollars, with an expected annual growth of 14.9% annually. This is a sign of what’s to come. Cannabis may be an industry that’s been considered taboo for decades, but the growth shows the growing acceptance of the plant for medical and adult use reasons.
With that growth comes a greater need for insurance providers, opening the door to the possibility that these two industries will grow in tandem. The future may bring a greater variety of options for coverage at cheaper prices. But for the time being, insurance providers remain cautious as the fate of federal and local cannabis laws are still in flux.
Are There Limited Carriers that Issue Dispensary Insurance?
Every CRB needs insurance, just like any other type of establishment, business or company. The issue within the cannabis industry is that there is still a limited insurance market, with insurers willing to provide insurance constantly exiting and entering the market. Plus, the overall capacity and variety of policies that cover different types of risks are limited. Lastly, it can be difficult to use CRB insurance when you read between the lines of the policy. Because cannabis with THC is still federally illegal (excluding hemp-derived cannabis products containing less than 0.3% THC), insurers can negate coverage when a loss or claim occurs.
Because of the complications that may arise even if you do have insurance, Marenco offers some advice for dispensary owners that are searching for the right insurance option for them: “Before shopping for insurance make sure you have all your licenses and are in full compliance with all regulations. Insurance carrier’s requirements from the state. Additionally, consider different coverage options.” He continues. “At a minimum, a business needs general liability insurance. Insurance companies can also consider covering business property including inventory, betterments, and improvements to a rented space, among others. When shopping for insurance make sure your agent reviews different coverage options.”
As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, recent market challenges have created an environment that is more difficult for industry leaders to navigate. To find success in today’s marketplace, company leaders need to adopt a robust, data-driven approach to combat the influx of rising brands, emerging markets and pricing challenges, among other obstacles. By leveraging data, cannabis brands and companies can better make well-informed decisions to refine their business strategies and drive growth.
The Evolution of the U.S. Cannabis Market
The cannabis industry maintains its ranking as one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. as the legalization of adult-use and medical cannabis continues to expand. When California first legalized medical cannabis in the 1990s, a lack of regulations in the market created space for new cultivation businesses and dispensaries to form. These early cannabis players leveraged capital to expand and grow, developing a business model that has been replicated many times over the years in markets like Washington, Michigan and Arizona.
“Keystone pricing is a common strategy in today’s cannabis retail market, and manufacturers would benefit from reevaluating how wholesale products are priced to determine the ultimate impact on the bottom line to maximize profits.”Some of the strongest cannabis brands today were formed during this time. Today, the U.S. cannabis landscape looks vastly different, and strict government regulations and stagnant federal policies make it more difficult to find success. Brands that are surviving and thriving in today’s landscape have invested heavily in data operations.
Investing in Data Operations
While data wasn’t essential for cannabis operations in the past, today, it can mean the difference between success and failure for a company. Cultivators, processors and dispensaries that analyze data have a broader perspective that allows them to pivot quickly and stay relevant.
Data-driven decision making is critical for cannabis companies looking to meet and exceed revenue goals at every level. For cultivators, data can help create an optimal environment for growth. Manufacturers can utilize data to improve environmental conditions, reduce waste, cost and more. By leveraging data, retailers can benefit significantly from learning precisely which products should have a place on their shelves.
Business leaders in the emerging cannabis industry benefit from embracing the infrastructure and business practices that are already standard practice in other industries. Many top-performing cannabis companies today are structured similarly to other CPG organizations, and those who employ these tried-and-true strategies will be primed to win. One successful approach that many cannabis companies are adopting is a three-tiered system for manufacturing and selling products similar to the one employed in the beverage alcohol industry, providing economic, regulatory and commercial benefits for all.
Unlocking Efficiency with Pricing
Pricing challenges have plagued the cannabis industry for the past 18 months. While an inflationary environment has caused the prices of products in many sectors to rise, cannabis has been largely unaffected. Yet, because cannabis is not yet legal at a federal level, markets have become segmented, and prices are highly dependent upon demand factors in each state. This unique dynamic, combined with increased competition, has forced many producers to accept lower profit margins rather than pass on costs to consumers.
“Outside of point-of-sale and distribution data, consumer insight panels are also important for gaining valuable information about what consumers truly want and need.”These challenging market conditions have made it critical for companies to drive more efficient operations. By implementing data-driven technology, cannabis leaders can operate more precisely to minimize costs and produce high-quality products. Keystone pricing is a common strategy in today’s cannabis retail market, and manufacturers would benefit from reevaluating how wholesale products are priced to determine the ultimate impact on the bottom line to maximize profits.
Leveraging Data for Growth and Innovation
For retailers, running a successful cannabis operation with sustained growth is nearly impossible without leveraging in-depth industry data and analytics. Consumer data offers key insights to guide in-store activations, including promotions and discounting, to boost sales for retailers. By utilizing data, including data from loyalty programs, retailers can optimize their product mix based on what consumers are actually buying, and improve scaling and segmenting. From analyzing a store’s traffic to monitoring product, brand and category performance, data is indispensable when it comes to elevating business performance.
Data is also essential for innovation planning, pipeline building and analyzing location-specific variances. Seasonal trends influencing cannabis products often depend on various geographic and socioeconomic variables. While in the past large retail chains often ran the same shelf assortments at each location, utilizing data allows retailers to account for variances that make a significant impact based on location and consumer set.
While some cannabis industry leaders are accustomed to making business decisions based on their gut instinct, data enables them to quantify predictive levels of success and plan for what sales will look like once products hit shelves. Outside of point-of-sale and distribution data, consumer insight panels are also important for gaining valuable information about what consumers truly want and need. As the cannabis industry continues to expand quickly, an increasing demand for products will encourage innovation that will be powered by data-driven intelligence for years to come.
This year we have seen some awesome evolution in the design industry. Retail cannabis design is leading the way. Here are some trends to keep an eye out for as we approach the new year and look at the artistic elements that are elevating the cannabis retail experience.
Goodbye all white Apple store. Hello bright colors of the rainbow. Design pioneers are tired of the safety of neutrals. Pattern mixing, bold use of colors, lights and art that blur the lines between ‘wildly tacky and holy cow that’s amazing.’ We’re not talking about a few fun pops of color; we’re talking full walls of color, bold displays and fixtures. Cannabis isn’t for the meek and it’s so exciting to finally see it reflected in design.
Experiential Retail & Sensory Immersion
The new vision for cannabis dispensaries (specifically in adult use locations) is one that absolutely combines multiple sense-touching points within the space and flexes the space to include adjacent hybrid areas. This is mostly driven by the Gen Z consumer. A quick example would be if the dispensary has florals or greenery, the shopper will want to feel like they’ve been transported to the great outdoors. Feel the wind, smell the grass, hear the birds. You get the idea, a full immersion into whatever theme or vibe the brand is putting out there. Customers love being transported to a new place and interior retail design is absolutely the coolest way to do it. This ties into the recent social media trend, ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), where you can experience a tingly euphoric feeling triggered by a carefully created clip. We love the way our environment can sway the senses away from the everyday and into somewhere extraordinary.
The goal here is to pull customers into the store and offer them something far more than a quick and dirty sale. Experiential spaces will also have those hybrid areas that merge the brand with something other than cannabis. This is tricky due to compliance, but we are loving the mixture of yoga, spa, lounge, arcades, art gallery and even bowling within a dispensary. If you’ve shopped at Sheels, you know all about this. A full ferris wheel, restaurant, aquarium and spa inside the sporting goods store. This is definitely a trend that reshapes the standard shopping model and is unique to cannabis.
Are we being bombarded with digital, phygital and AI in our everyday lives? Maybe. And cannabis customers love every drop of it. More and more we are seeing interactive, digital, full-on wall displays that make you feel like you’re at a museum exhibit. The initial investment can be spendy, but the ultimate flexibility and control (and shopper ooh’s and aah’s) make it all worth it. Imagine an incredible wall showing farm footage, where you can touch the image of the plant and an info bubble pops up describing the terpene and showing it being distilled into a tincture. Bored? Flip it to footage of your latest social event. Whatever you want your customers to see and interact with is completely up to you. More and more we are seeing the digital arts incorporated into dispensary design.
Despite the US making cannabis regulations challenging to navigate, the industry is snowballing toward profitability. New Jersey legalized adult use cannabis on April 21 this year. One month earlier, The Garden State began accepting applications for Class 5: Retailers, Dispensing and Delivery.
Regardless of what kind of retailer you operate —medical or adult use — it’s critical to know what you’re up against. The following are the most common risks we’ve watched cannabis retailers face daily in New Jersey, making a customized risk management strategy necessary.
Like other retailers, New Jersey cannabis retailers are vulnerable to theft. Unfortunately, theft can come from various angles, such as in-store, in-transit and insider crime. Besides cannabis retailers typically having a well-stocked inventory, it’s not uncommon for them to have more cash on hand than most other businesses.
Although the SAFE Banking Act could positively impact the cannabis industry, it’s in a notorious stall yet again. Briefly, the SAFE Banking Act would no longer allow financial institutions, such as banks and credit card companies, to refuse to do business with cannabis companies. However, cannabis retailers must operate in a cash-only environment, for now, forcing them to make bank runs multiple times a day. We probably don’t have to explain how enticing a significant inventory and fat bank bags look to criminals.
Since the onset of the global health crisis, the cyber liability landscape has nearly spun into a death spiral. In other words, cybercriminals sat on the edge of their seats during the pandemic, waiting to pounce on anything that looked slightly vulnerable. Remote workers, small businesses, and emerging industries were hard-hit.
It’s no surprise that New Jersey cannabis retailers face many cybersecurity risks through their point of sale (POS) systems. Additionally, retailers often gather and store personal information, such as email addresses, credit card numbers, shipping addresses, etc. Hackers and cybercriminals gravitate to this vital data rapidly.
In addition to the risk of theft, as mentioned above, cannabis retailers must protect their property from losses. Without adequate protection, damage to equipment or buildings could add up to high out-of-pocket costs. Consider the damage a weekend office fire or late-night vandalism would cause. If property damage occurs, retailers must figure out how to sustain business operations while recovering from the loss simultaneously. As a result, New Jersey retailers must protect their property and maintain business continuity.
How to Customize a Risk Management Strategy
Watch or listen to any news reports and there’s a decent chance that you’ll feel some slight sense of doom and gloom. And sure, a lot is going wrong in our world; however, that doesn’t need to impact how you perceive your businesses. Instead of casting a massive net over every possible risk that you can imagine, we recommend trying the following 5-step approach. Here’s the gist:
Identify: Pinpoint high-level risks that are specific to the cannabis industry. Then, let the process trickle down to focus on company-specific exposures.
Analyze: Determine how badly a particular risk could harm your retail company. How much will this hurt should the “what-ifs” play out?
Evaluate: Categorize risks according to how risk tolerant your company is. Will you avoid, transfer, mitigate or accept the risk?
Track: Use your history or the stats from a similar retailer to map out how you’ve handled the risk over time. Older retailers have an advantage over younger retailers, of course, but you can still get a feel for your risk management style.
Treat: Make good on your evaluation promises by avoiding, transferring, mitigating, or accepting the various risks you identified.
Recommended Insurance for New Jersey Retailers
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued detailed requirements for new cannabis businesses. That said, part of the application requirements considered is the plan for companies to obtain liability insurance. Many new retailers opted for a “letter of commitment” as opposed to a certificate of insurance (COI), stating their plans for obtaining the following coverages:
Commercial general liability: Protects cannabis companies against basic business risks.
Product liability: Protects against claims alleging your product or service caused injury or damage.
Property: Reimburses cannabis companies for direct property losses.
Workers’ compensation: Covers employees if they are injured on the job and can no longer work.
In addition to the required insurance coverages, we recommend New Jersey retailers customize their risk management package with these policies:
Crime: Protects your cannabis company against specific money theft crimes.
Cyber: Protects your cannabis company against damages from specific electronic activities.
Directors & officers: Protects corporate directors’ and officers’ personal assets if they are sued.
Employment practices liability: Protects cannabis companies against employment-related lawsuits.
Professional liability: Protects cannabis companies against lawsuits of inferior work or service.
With more states in the US entering the marketplace soon, New Jersey is doing its fair share of the heavy lifting by spearheading the onboarding process. Remember, doing your due diligence at the start pays off in the long run — New Jersey retailers are proving that. Consider teaming with a commercial insurance broker calibrated to the cannabis industry, so you get the most out of your broker, marketplace and the cannabis industry as a whole.
The cannabis retail market is very unique. What began as compassion clubs and wellness centers in the early days of legal cannabis, eventually morphed into dispensaries, quickly becoming the retail model that regulators around the country adopted and businesses implemented.
For most states with legal cannabis markets, the dispensary has been the only way for consumers to buy cannabis and cannabis products. Before the pandemic began, we started seeing a handful of states warm up to allowing delivery services. During the height of the pandemic, more states adopted curbside pickup, e-commerce in some shape or form and delivery services that finally expanded cannabis retail beyond the dispensary. Still though, regulations hamper commercial growth in the retail space and the dispensary remains, by far, the place where most people buy their cannabis.
When Jack Roosevelt, co-founder of LucidaClub, entered a dispensary back in 2019 in Massachusetts, he shared an experience all too common in the cannabis industry: An overwhelming number of options, jargon like sativa, indica and strain names that make no sense to the uninitiated, confusing product types and an all-around unpleasant shopping experience. Jack saw all those barriers to entry for the canna-curious or novice consumer and thought that there must be a better way to shop for cannabis.
So he started LucidaClub, a membership-based platform that is designed to guide and educate consumers with the advice of experts who can help people understand cannabis products and make the right purchase decision without all of the frustration and trial and error that is so common.
The name, Lucida, comes from a Latin phrase meaning the brightest star in a constellation. Jack and his co-founder, Lucinda, want their company to be the guiding star on your cannabis journey. LucidaClub isn’t just for the cannabis newbie; their in-house curator and team of experts can help any cannabis consumer find products to better fit their needs for sleep, wellness, relaxation, stress or just to have a good time. We sat down with Jack to chat about the cannabis retail market, what his company is all about and what the future of cannabis retail might look like.Jack Roosevelt will be speaking on the cannabis retail experience at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo. Click here to learn more.
Cannabis Industry Journal: Tell us about your background and how you came to the cannabis space.
Jack Roosevelt: I began my career in finance, working for JP Morgan and Barclays. I left Barclays and joined a renewable energy start up before eventually joining the cannabis space.
My move into the cannabis space was due to an event in the summer of 2019. Adult use cannabis had been legal in Massachusetts since November of 2018. Now, I smoked some weed in high school and college, but hadn’t touched it in at least 20 years. However, cannabis was now legal, so I said maybe there’s an opportunity to find something that would help me unwind at the end of the day, help with sleep and manage some of my stress.
Knowing that I smoked in high school and college, I figured that buying weed was buying weed. How difficult could this be? That took me to going to a dispensary for the first time. Walking through those doors made me realize that buying cannabis today is nothing like buying weed back when I was in college. It’s a fundamentally different experience.
I stood there looking at the menu of strains, with names that meant nothing to me, jargon like terpenes, and even the idea of sativa versus indica at that time was foreign to me. Twenty years ago, we didn’t pay attention to the strain name or anything like that. We’d walk into someone’s dorm room and your option would be ‘this is twenty bucks an eighth, forty bucks an eighth and sixty bucks an eighth.’ You weren’t paying attention to the strain or the name of anything like that.
Coming into the dispensary that day, I thought I’d walk out of there with an eighth of flower and something to help me unwind at the end of the day. I walked out of there with a tincture and it really wasn’t because they upsold me to a better product, it was because it was the least worst option I could see on the menu. It was something I felt that I could understand from a dosing standpoint and it was something that didn’t require knowing the strains or names that mean nothing to me. I was quite frankly looking for the easiest way to purchase something and get out of there as quickly as possible
Sitting in the car afterwards, I was mulling over that experience, the feeling of intimidation, how awkward it was, how frustrating it was. I am 6’8” and 300 pounds I am not a small guy, and I’m not a wallflower. I don’t intimidate easily, so if this was my experience, what was this going to be like for everyone else?
That made me reexamine and take a stronger look at the retail market and the potential growth. How do you engage the consumer like me, for whom there are lots of barriers to entry, most of which are perception-driven. Some of the barriers are regulatory and geographic, but most are perception based. Here in Massachusetts, a lot of the dispensaries are in inconvenient locations. Not all towns allow for rec sales, and not all of those towns that do will allow a dispensary to open on the High Street, so consumers often times have to drive out of their way to get to a dispensary.
So, for me understanding what this new consumer base would look like and how they would come into the market was key. Obviously there would be a natural growth progression for the cannabis market. However, if we could build something to help guide people, answer their questions and make them feel comfortable with what they were buying and how to consume, really hold their hand in the initial stage of a consumer coming back into the market or coming in for the first time, then we could help grow the market quicker and put that natural progression of growth on a faster track.
That experience made me start to do some market research, look at the market size, and what that potential market could look like. Our research shows that, depending on the maturity of the market in question, there are between 1.5 and 4 times the number of Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines than there are active consumers in a market. Here in MA, conservatively there are at least 1.5MM Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines, waiting to come into the market. Because our research showed such a large opportunity he in MA and the Northeast, where we live, we decided to focus our efforts here.. Because we are Cannacurious consumers ourselves, we have a natural understanding and empathy for the consumer. I was definitely not and still am not an expert on cannabis. But if we can find the right experts that can answer the questions that we have then we can do the same for the Cannacurious. For 70+ years, we’ve been told that cannabis is bad, smoking weed is bad and everything associated with it is bad. So, we want to break that negative perception, that stigma that is still lingering and open it up to a more mainstream consumer.
CIJ: What gave you the idea to start Lucida Club?
Jack: What I just told you sums it up pretty well. It was basically built out of personal frustration. I thought that if I had this problem, those feelings of intimidation, awkwardness and frustration, then undoubtedly a lot of other people would too. Therefore, we’re looking at how we can create a platform that would make the buying process as simple and convenient as possible, while educating the consumers at the same time.
CIJ: How does Lucida Club work?
Jack: It’s a concept of simplicity and convenience. There are two sides to this: The E-commerce side, when you sign up and become a member and you want to make a purchase, all you have to do is answer three questions: What experience do you want? Do you want to smoke something or not? And how much money what do you want to spend? We put together three experience packages with three key price points, around $100, around $150 and around $250.
It is based on available inventory, which products and price points match up with different packages. We have fully integrated with Flowhub and are doing the same thing with some other POS systems as well. We see the inventory for our retail partners on a live basis. When one of our members makes a purchase, if they choose the sleep, nonsmoking, $100 package and put that option in their cart, by the time it populates in their cart, our platform has already gone to the dispensary inventory, we’ve allocated their inventory by experience and by order preference. So it will put those top two or three or four items in the cart automatically. The consumer doesn’t have to worry about what brands are available.
We’ve done all the work for them. They just need to pay attention to what experience and price point they want and we take care of the rest.
The other side of our business involves our head curator who combs through all the inventories and manages the product selection. But he also works with with our members as a concierge. When you sign up for our service, you automatically get a free consultation with our head curator, which we encourage all of our members to do before they make their first purchase. That way, we can answer all your questions and make sure the package is really tailored towards you individually. You also get a follow up consultation, which helps to guide additional advice and make sure you get the experience you’re looking for. On top of that, we’re also trying to advance consumer education through a lot of content, answering common questions and help to guide consumers on their journey with cannabis and the role it can play in their lives.
CIJ: How do you think you are innovating the cannabis retail experience?
Jack: When I was sitting in the car that fateful day back in 2019, I looked at retail the same way everyone else does: you build a store, an e-commerce platform, you have a product you’re trying to sell and focus on the product itself. What opened my eyes being the consumer that day was that cannabis unique.
We’ve been told for decades about how bad cannabis is for us and for society and these negative connotations have been drilled in to us. We need to look at the retail space from the consumer’s perspective and the barriers to entry that they feel. It’s not something that a regular retailer can do easily.
By definition, a brick-and-mortar retailer, needs to be everything to everybody, for all of their customers. They have to work with the connoisseurs, the regulars that have been consuming for a long time, who really understand what they’re looking for. At the same time, they need to engage with the canna-curious, the newbie that’s walking in the door for the first time. It’s difficult to focus on one market segment for them. If they were to focus all of their efforts on just the canna-curious, they would be missing out and losing traction and not engaging properly with their other customer bases.
We have the ability to engage with a very specific market segment, the Cannacurious, which is a very large group of people by the numbers but still niche. Our research shows that there are at least 1.5 million Cannacurious in Massachusetts alone that are either sitting on the sidelines or engaging in the market in a very small way. We’ve spoken to a lot of people that have other people make purchases for them, their sister or brother going to a dispensary that feels comfortable picking up a single package of edibles for them. That’s a form of hand holding that we want to provide. We want to make consumers feel comfortable and educate them on how they can choose products for the experience they want.
In my mind when we look at the cannabis space, it’s about how we can help people come into the marketplace, how we can help open their eyes to a litany of other opportunities for them and also how to approach things from a consumer perspective.
CIJ: What do you think the future of retail in cannabis looks like?
Jack: That’s a tough question because so much of that is driven form a regulatory standpoint. I know where I think it would go if regulators were just there to make it easy for consumers and for everyone to do business. It changes so much state to state and market to market. In retail in general, so much is moving online and on to e-commerce. Where you have a situation where people actually understand what they want and they tend to buy the same products on a regular basis, e-commerce is great and easy for them to make a purchase. Delivery opens a lot of doors as well with that. But again, it’s really difficult to look at what is going to happen because the market is so fragmented from a regulatory standpoint.
It won’t develop in one direction easily. Delivery is an option but we don’t have it on a mass scale in Massachusetts. It’s the same with e-commerce. Technically in Massachusetts, purchasing online is not an easy thing to facilitate. It still has to be done at the point of sale in-person with pickup and it hampers e-commerce. This potentially slows down how the market could develop. I definitely know where it could go, but looking into that magic eight ball will still be very cloudy if you ask it for an answer. Sorry, I have to obfuscate things a little there because it’s just so hard to figure out what the regulators will greenlight next and where they want the market to go.
We really just don’t know. There are so many ways to look at that question. If you’re a brick-and-mortar dispensary right now and you’re looking at how the market itself is growing in the state of Massachusetts, it’s tough to say. We went from about sixty licensed retailers during the height of the pandemic to well over 200 now. There’s going to be some consolidation. Whether that means that the growth of MSOs will proliferate and everything will be homogenized going forward, I don’t know what that could mean because at the moment it’s very difficult to have that full homogenization when you’re only allowed to have a handful of retail licenses. How do any of the MSOs gain real traction with three locations? If that changes, if you go somewhere like Florida where the rules are different, you see the true growth of the MSO with dozens of retail locations. Here, we still have a lot of mom-and-pop retailers along with a lot of much smaller MSOs who might have locations in one or two other states.
E-commerce will bring a lot to the market and help brands grow significantly. How we grow depends almost entirely on what the regulatory environment looks like. There are so many different things we could do with our platform, but we are so hampered by the regulations in just this one market alone. We built our platform and business model the way we did because it allows us to be flexible and adapt. As we move into a new market, we can build relationships and new markets open up. It’s all about being flexible if you can be.
Federal regulations have made compliant credit processing in the cannabis industry difficult to achieve. As a result, most cannabis retailers operate a cash-only model, limiting their ability to upsell customers and placing a burden on customers who might rather use credit. While some dispensaries offer debit, credit or cashless ATM transactions, regulators and traditional payment processors have been cracking down on these offerings as they are often non-compliant with regulations and policies.
Two companies, KindTap Technologies and Aeropay, are addressing the cannabis industry’s payment processing challenges with innovative digital solutions geared towards retailers and consumers.
We interviewed both Cathy Corby Iannuzzelli, president at KindTap Technologies and Daniel Muller, CEO at Aeropay. Cathy co-founded KindTap in 2019 after a career in the banking and payments industries where she launched multiple financial and credit products. Daniel founded AeroPay in 2017 after a career in digital product innovation, most recently at GPShopper (acquired by Financial), where he oversaw the design and development of over 300 web and mobile applications for large scale Fortune 500 companies.
Green: What is the biggest challenge your customers are facing?
Iannuzzelli: Our customers include both cannabis retailers and their end consumers. As long as cannabis is illegal at the federal level, normal payment solutions such as debit and credit cards cannot be accepted for cannabis purchases. This has resulted in heavy cash-based sales and unstable, transient work-around ATM payment solutions that can be ripped out with little notice, disrupting the entire business. The lack of a mature payment network to support retail payments for cannabis purchases is a huge challenge for all stakeholders. Cannabis retailers bear the high cost and safety issues of operating a heavily cash-based retail business. Consumers encounter several friction points that require them to change their behavior when purchasing cannabis relative to how they purchase everything else.
Muller: Our cannabis business customers have faced a constantly changing and, frankly, exhausting financial services environment. From the need to move and manage large amounts of cash, to card workarounds, added to the disappointment from legislation around the SAFE Banking Act, these inconsistencies have acted as a roadblock to their potential growth and profitability. Aeropay is in the position to be a stable, long-term, reliable payments partner ready to help them scale their businesses. We believe these opportunities are limitless.
Green: What geographies have got your attention and why?
Iannuzzelli: KindTap’s focus is on the U.S. market where federal policy has created the need for alternatives to traditional payment networks. KindTap is available in every U.S. state where cannabis is legally sold. In terms of our distribution channels, KindTap’s digital payment solution was brought to market during the COVID-19 pandemic when curbside pick-up and delivery became critically important. These channels are where the exchange of cash at pick-up posed the greatest security risk to employees and customers. Our early integrations were with e-commerce platforms focused on delivery and pick-up orders, and our integration partners have strong customer bases in California and the northeast. So, while KindTap can provide its “Pay Later” lines of credit and “Pay Now” bank account solutions anywhere, we have heavier penetration in those regions.
Muller: California, for its established tech culture and how it plays into the cannabis industry – your product simply has to live up to their tech standards to be heard. Also, Chicago, our headquarters, with its newly emerged commitment to financing the cannabis industry and bringing with it a more traditional business approach. In Chicago, you have to have elevated standards of professional practices in any industry you enter. And of course, we love to watch emerging markets like New York and Florida as they head towards adult-use and what shape cannabis and payments will take.
Green: What are the broader industry trends you are following?
Iannuzzelli: We continue to see a strong transition from cash and ATM transactions over to digital payments. Since KindTap has a fully-integrated payment “button” on e-commerce checkout screens, the adoption rate of end consumers to that one-click experience is quite strong. We are also seeing trends of more “express lines” in the retail environment – for those KindTap users who paid online/ahead – and faster/safer delivery experiences to people’s homes since there is no longer the need to collect any payment upon delivery. We are firm believers in the delivery/digital payments combination and a strong increase of that trend as more states allow for delivery.
Muller: The cannabis industry is starting to normalize payments and mirror traditional online and brick-and-mortar. With bank-to-bank (ACH) payments, cannabis businesses can now offer modern customer shopping experiences including pre-payment for delivery orders without the need for a cash exchange at the door, offering the option to buy online pickup in-store and contactless in-store QR scan-to-pay customer experiences. With these familiar and customer-driven options now available, we are seeing widespread adoption, as well as meaningful increases in spend and returning customers.
Green: Thank you both. That concludes the interview!
About KindTap: KindTap Technologies, LLC operates a financial technology platform that offers credit and loyalty-enabled payment solutions for highly-regulated industries typically driven by cash and ATM-based transactions. KindTap offers payment processing and related consumer applications for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers. Founded in 2019, the company is backed by KreditForce LLC plus several strategic investors, with debt capital provided by U.S.-based institutions. Learn more at kindtaptech.com.
About AeroPay: AeroPay is a financial technology company reimagining the way money is moved in exchange for goods and services. Frustrated with the current, antiquated payments landscape, we believe there is a better way to pay and a better way to get paid. AeroPay set out to build a payments platform that works for all- businesses, consumers, and their communities. Learn more at aeropay.com.
On-demand cannabis delivery services are a rapidly growing part of the industry. Having a delivery option available for your dispensary’s patient population is a critical component of your service offering. This is especially true when considering medical cannabis patients who might have conditions that hinder their mobility or patients who just prefer the anonymity or convenience of delivery rather than visiting a dispensary.
So I ask you – why don’t you have a delivery service option available for your dispensary?
While there are several models for cannabis delivery, depending on the state you live in, the biggest challenge dispensary owners face is ensuring that their delivery service continues to meet all compliance standards.
Beware, one misstep in your delivery process could mean serious implications for your dispensary and you – including being shut down.
Keep reading to learn how you can provide your customers and patients with a delivery service while remaining compliant with your state’s rules and regulations.
How to Keep Your Cannabis Delivery Service Compliant
Part of keeping your cannabis delivery service compliant is understanding how to start a delivery service from the ground up. Keep in mind that the costs will vary depending on how you structure your company. Things to think about – insurance, technology, merchant processing, driver recruiting and whether or not your drivers will be independent contractors or employees.
Additionally, you will have to consider the regulations that are standard in your state.
For instance, if you don’t do your research, you won’t know whether or not you need two drivers in the car, whether or not you need a lockbox, or if you’re required to have handhelds for payment. Other requirements will depend on the state in which you live.
Here are the most important things you’ll need to do to get started:
Do Your Homework
The first thing you need to do to ensure that your service is compliant is research your state’s delivery protocol. That means obtaining the proper licensing or certifications necessary to move cannabis products from one place to another.
It should be noted that in some states, like Washington, cannabis delivery providers must also obtain a retailer’s license. You’ll also need to determine whether your state allows delivery for only medical cannabis or both medical and recreational.
Please keep in mind the following – cannabis is not federally recognized as legal. Therefore, the only deliveries you can make are intrastate deliveries.
Lastly, you’ll need to pay close attention to how you can advertise your cannabis delivery service. The guidelines vary from state to state, and they typically include regulations for content, imaging and location.
Is Owning a Delivery Service Right for You?
Delivery, in general, is not easy. The delivery business is difficult to integrate into the highly regulated cannabis market; it becomes extraordinarily difficult to manage.
It’s great to have a delivery service, but are you a good salesperson? Do you understand marketing, positioning and messaging? Have you ever written SOPs or standard operating procedures? There are so many questions to ask yourself when you want to own a business.
Consider Working With Logistics Experts
While it may be tempting to create an in-house delivery service all on your own, think twice.
It’s best to partner with a third-party logistics partner, like Scarlet Express. These partners are experts in cannabis delivery services and will arm you with everything you need to be successful.
Most cannabis logistics companies can also scale right along with your business, so you don’t have to worry about “outgrowing” their services.
As a new or small dispensary owner, taking on the challenges of cannabis delivery can be incredibly difficult but not impossible when you work with a company that has tried and true systems in place. Lots of things to consider, seek out experts – like Scarlet Express.
As an experiential marketer that works with a lot of vice-oriented brands, I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the rise of spirits in the US – a history marked by ingenuity in the face of heavy restrictions, clashing social norms, crime and political ideals. Since then, those same qualities have emerged in the story of cannabis and how, against all odds, it has recently begun to push its way into the mainstream. But on the path to legalization, cannabis can also learn a lot from the spirits industry about what not to do.
For example, when laws governing the spirits industry were written in the post-Prohibition 1930s, the federal government wanted to create an equitable landscape. So, they created a 3-tier system – manufacturers or importers must sell to wholesalers, wholesalers must then sell to retailers and retailers sell to us. They figured that keeping manufacturing interests separate from wholesale and retail interests would keep any large company from owning an entire supply chain, muscling out smaller competitors.
In theory, it’s not a bad idea. Imagine the consequences of massive companies like Diageo or AB InBev using their money to pay bars and liquor stores to only stock their brands and not competitors. Add on the Tied House Laws, which basically says an entity in one of the three categories cannot have an ownership stake in any of the others, and you get a seemingly even-handed marketplace.
In truth, it makes it almost impossible to be disruptive or for new brands to break through. Other industries have innovated by cutting out the middleman and selling direct-to-consumer – something that simply cannot happen in alcohol (minus the wineries and distilleries that can sell direct out of their tasting rooms). Also, now distributors are so consolidated that there are only one or two big distribution companies in each state. So, as a company trying to bring a new product to market, you have to get into one of these highly selective and competitive distributors if you are going to be successful – a challenging ask for a small, independent brand.
Now, imagine that same challenge coming to the cannabis space. With legalization around the corner, the adult use (as opposed to medical use) cannabis industry could easily look like alcohol in the rules that will be set up.
Right now, adult use manufacturers can sell their products to dispensaries directly. Some use a distributor, but there is no nationwide mandate to – which is probably for the best. If a distributor isn’t a requirement, it forces brands to offer something new to differentiate themselves. It will spark innovation, rather than add an extra profit margin that will get rolled into the final price – a price that is already higher than it should be due to the murky federal legal status. Adding complexity and cost will only make it harder to compete with the illicit market. For the industry to grow, costs for illicit cannabis can’t be lower than its legal counterpart.
Of course, we are in the nascent stages of legalization here and we’ve come a long way culturally and technologically since the 30s. But remember, the rules governing alcohol were written nearly 100 years ago along with the passage of the 21st amendment repealing prohibition. Startlingly, those laws haven’t changed that much since they were written, so any mistakes made now in dealing with the cannabis industry could last for a long time.
A new way forward
What the cannabis industry needs is a new model for the adult use/recreational space, keeping some of what exists in the alcohol industry but without ever mandating use of a distributor – the middle tier. This would mean keeping Tied House Laws in place and applying them to cannabis so that a manufacturer could never hold an interest in a retailer, while still allowing them to sell directly to dispensaries and to consumers. Currently, some states allow for vertical integration, which would change under Tied House Laws.
This should be pretty simple, since most states are already separating licenses by type of activity (manufacturer, retailer, etc.) and it would promote competition while bringing the widest array of products possible to each consumer. Also, it would prevent any behemoths from squeezing out the up and comers.
Of course, some retail license allowances could be considered on a case-by-case basis. For example, I would carve out an exception that growers/manufacturers could sell direct to consumers through a single “tasting room” at their brand home. This is similar to the operations of microbreweries, distilleries and wineries. It would encourage education for consumers, and provide great opportunities for brands to show why their products are better or unique.
Given the technology and logistics solutions available to businesses in a 21st century economy, mandated distributors create a sometimes-unnecessary barrier to an already efficient supply chain. If mandated, prices will inflate to cover added margin, thus making it harder to bring consumers over from the legacy market to the legal one. I’m not against the idea of a distributor – they can add tremendous value, but the mandate would seriously curtail industry growth.
Direct-to-retail and direct-to-consumer sales are necessary for the economic health and growth of the industry. Without this, using alcohol as a cautionary tale, at some point the middle tier cannabis brands will inevitably begin to wield an outsized amount of power. We are living at a time where innovation is going to be the key to explosive growth in the cannabis industry, so it’s important to do everything possible to let the market find its way without falling into a century-old trap.
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