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An Interview with Würk CEO & Chairman, Scott Kenyon

By Aaron Green
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The cannabis industry operates in a legal gray area between federal restrictions and state legalization in a constantly changing regulatory environment. Maintaining payroll and HR compliance is a burden cannabis companies face that grows exponentially with geographic expansion of the workforce.

Würk allows cannabis companies to manage payroll, human resources, timekeeping, scheduling and tax compliance, minimizing compliance risks in the ever-changing cannabis regulatory environment. The company uses its expertise and trusted partnerships to provide guidance on 280E tax law, accounting and banking. Its platform is designed to scale nationally with the growth of the industry while incorporating the local laws and regulations unique to individual states. Their clients include Cresco Labs, Canndescent and NUG.

We caught up with Scott Kenyon to ask about Würk’s approach to human capital management, challenges facing cannabis businesses and industry trends. Scott sat on the Board of Würk before becoming its CEO and chairman. Prior to Würk, Scott held leadership roles at Dell and Phunware.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Scott Kenyon, CEO and Chairman of Würk

Scott Kenyon: My wife and I were early investors in a few companies in Colorado and Nevada. From early on (this was back in 2015) we learned the hard way of cannabis and how difficult it is to run these businesses, especially in those early days. We’ve progressed a ton over the years, but it’s still very difficult to run cannabis businesses.

I joined Würk about five years ago as a board member. I came on as CEO at the beginning of 2021 after our founder and previous CEO Keegan Peterson, who was an early trailblazer in the industry, passed away. So, I’ve been CEO at Würk for about 18 months.

Green: Tell me about Würk and the main problems you’re trying to solve.

Kenyon: Early on we were focused on establishing getting out of the cash business for these cannabis companies. Allowing them to pay payroll, taxes and be tax compliant electronically was a huge early advantage for us as a company. Now, fast forward seven years later and a lot of different banks (credit unions) are in the industry and that is allowing people to move money. So, that’s not as big of an advantage for us anymore, but early on that was huge.

Our advantage now is the scars on our back, for lack of a better phrase, from what we’ve gone through over the last seven years. We anticipate. We prevent. And most importantly we’ve seen all those problems for our customers. Last year, a big thing of mine was being “Smokey the Bear.” We want everybody to be Smokey the Bear: prevent fires and prevent issues for our customers. When I came in, we were the world’s best firefighters. I didn’t want that title. I wanted to prevent issues for our customers. That takes you from being a vendor to a partner.

If you look at it, on our platform we have 80% of the enterprise cannabis market, about 60% of the mid-market and then low single digits in the small business space. We have that market share because we provide invaluable experience and guidance to our customers. The biggest MSOs have different challenges from a “Joseph and Scott” dispensary, or a “Mary and Jane” grow facility. We’re able to adapt to all those different segments.

At the core of our product, we offer payroll services and what we call HCM – human capital management. That’s everything from scheduling, applicant tracking systems processing and paying your payroll taxes. So, we have the full gamut of product offerings that any type of HCM or HRIS software system does, whether you’re outside of cannabis or inside of cannabis, we’re offering the same thing.

Green: How does Würk differ from say a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)?

Kenyon: We aren’t a PEO. We don’t manage employees. At a high-level, a PEO is basically managing HR for these companies. Our platform enables HR professionals to go out there and do that. PEOs are more popular down in the small business space, because people are not at the scale to hire an HR team. We’re similar in that we’re processing payroll and have all the software that these companies need, but we’re different in that we’re not running their HR for them.

Green: How do you work benefits into the mix?

Kenyon: We leave it to the client, and we integrate their benefits provider into our platform so it’s an easy one-stop shop. We have single sign-on for a lot of our integrations. For the HR organizations, we want them to log into our platform and everything they need will be there.

Green: How is SAFE banking going to affect the HR industry in cannabis?

Kenyon: It’s going to be great for the industry, obviously. For HR specifically, it’s going to bring in more providers of payroll and more competitors for us for sure. But also it’s going to bring in more providers of services that can come in and offer that right now because of the federal illegalization.

Green: How does 280E affect your business and your customers?

Kenyon: We don’t guide people around 280E because that’s a tax specific matter. We refer them to their tax experts. We process payroll tax, which is different than what 280E affects. I think 280E was a big challenge, it’s still a big challenge, but that’s mostly because people didn’t really understand it. I think 280E was a problem five to seven years ago. In the last two years most companies are very familiar with it. That doesn’t mean 280E is the right thing. I think 280E is an awful thing. And while I think I hope SAFE banking is the first thing to fall legislatively, I think 280E has a good chance of getting across first.

On any given day my opinion on which will go first changes. I just want something to get across the line.

Green: What are some unemployment and payroll challenges your customers face?

Kenyon: We really watch unemployment changes and changes in job descriptions or job codes. For example, if an unemployment rate changed, and that unemployed person moved to a different place, which happened a lot during COVID, that company needed to report that and they needed to collect the appropriate charges or taxes there.

Green: What geographies are you in right now?

Kenyon: As of January 1, we had people on our platform in 46 states and just under 600 different jurisdictions. So, even though cannabis isn’t legal in all those states, big companies have employees across the United States.

Green: How do you help your users manage compliance across multiple jurisdictions? That must be a complex undertaking.

Kenyon: Our platform automatically plugs into the states that have electronic notifications around laws, which most states do. In our tax department, we have certain group members that are experts, let’s say, in the west coast. So, we assign people to certain regions to ensure that they have the best knowledge.

From our support piece, where a lot of our customers come in, somebody might say, “Hey, I have a unique question for Utah” and we’ll say we have a person that is specialized in Utah, but we don’t force them there, we just give them the option. But in our tax queue, we actually direct the customer like, “Hey, here’s a Massachusetts Question, so that goes to a particular person because they are our Massachusetts expert.”

Green: How do you deal with timekeeping issues like overtime?

Kenyon: Well, our system does that automatically. Let’s say they’re working overtime in a state that’s difficult to keep time for like California. In the state of California, if they’re working overtime on a Saturday or Sunday or a holiday, that’s a whole different calculation than working longer on a Thursday night. So, our platform is made to automatically calculate that for our customers. There’s no manual adjustments or coaching happening there. We just follow the state law based on where the employees are.

Green: Are you seeing any unionization of employees within the cannabis industry?

Kenyon: There’s unionization in many of our states, I don’t know the exact number, but California being the biggest, there’s a lot of union representation. Illinois is probably the second biggest union state on our platform. I’m assuming New York will be once it becomes adult use.

Green: How does Würk approach cybersecurity?

“Cannabis customers don’t want to buy on the illicit market. They want to buy from a trusted source. It just takes time to make that happen.”Kenyon: Well, we approach it very seriously and I recommend everybody take cybersecurity seriously. We test our internal systems regularly. We test our employees through phishing scams. And we’re always just trying to educate our team on the risk that we have.

I can’t share specifically the prevention steps that we’re taking, but I can tell you we partner with some of the biggest experts and make sure that we’re following everything that they’re recommending. More importantly, we’re testing for human failures, because where most failures happen is with people.

Green: What trends are you following in the industry right now? 

Kenyon: Any type of activity in Congress is going to be huge for this industry. So that’s something I always keep abreast of. The next thing that comes down the line which is tied to that is interstate commerce: How is interstate commerce going to really come into play? And how does that change this industry?

Within the industry, the big question is how do we combat the illicit market? Over the last five years, I’ve heard all kinds of different ideas. But in the end, I think we have to out-innovate the illicit market, and that’s what I’m most excited about.

There are new product categories, beverage being one that is starting to gain traction. How are these new products and new variations of the cannabis plant able to treat and help people in ways that we’ve never thought of? That’s part of out-innovation. I was reading an article today about new terpenes that were discovered and how 100 products could come from each one of those new terpenes. I think we’re just still at the tip of the iceberg of product innovation.

How do we fight the illicit market? I think that is just through coming up with new products that treat different illnesses and ailments, that allow customers to get away from pharmaceuticals. Cannabis customers don’t want to buy on the illicit market. They want to buy from a trusted source. It just takes time to make that happen. They’re not going to do it when there’s a huge price difference, but they will do it when there’s a huge product difference. And right now, our products are very similar to what you can find on the illicit market. You can find vapes, you can find gummies, you can find all that in the illicit market. We’ve got to out-innovate the illicit market.

Green: What in your personal life are you most interested in learning about?

Kenyon: I am the father of two teenagers right now and I really like to learn how to be a better parent to them because it’s really frickin’ tough!

Green: Great, that concludes the interview!

Kenyon: Thanks, Aaron.

Risk Management Considerations for Cannabis Retailers in New Jersey

By Eric Schneider
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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.

Although New Jersey isn’t shy about its licensing requirements and standards, many people want to know how retailers can stay in the game for the long run. So, let’s talk about risk management considerations New Jersey retailers need to know.

Top Risks Cannabis Retailers Face in New Jersey

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.

Theft

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.

Cybersecurity

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.

Property Damage

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:

  1. Identify: Pinpoint high-level risks that are specific to the cannabis industry. Then, let the process trickle down to focus on company-specific exposures.
  2. Analyze: Determine how badly a particular risk could harm your retail company. How much will this hurt should the “what-ifs” play out?
  3. Evaluate: Categorize risks according to how risk tolerant your company is. Will you avoid, transfer, mitigate or accept the risk?
  4. 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.
  5. Treat: Make good on your evaluation promises by avoiding, transferring, mitigating, or accepting the various risks you identified.

Recommended Insurance for New Jersey Retailers

Sales totals in the first month of New Jersey’s adult use market

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.

New Insurance Risks as Cannabis Lounges Open Across the US

By Jason Scheurle
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In a growing number of communities around the U.S., new cannabis lounges are offering a social setting where guests can openly use cannabis products. Colorado and New Mexico both saw their first cannabis lounges open in April, Michigan’s first cannabis lounge is set to open this summer, and officials in Nevada are currently discussing how the recently approved class of businesses should be regulated. In West Hollywood, California, where the state’s first cannabis lounge opened in 2019, multiple new lounges are now in the works after two years of slowdown due to the pandemic.

The bar-like establishments add a new dimension of potential revenue — and risk — to an industry that is expected to add almost $100 billion to the U.S. economy this year. This new and emerging segment within cannabis isn’t happening in every legal state, but more are starting to enact regulations to provide for some type of on-site consumption.

These new ventures need insurance policies tailored to address the risks of serving cannabis products, which could be looked at similarly to liquor liability for bars and restaurants.

Whether it’s alcohol or cannabis, these products impair people’s judgment, meaning everyone reacts differently to them. But how do you know when to cut someone off?

Cannabis lounges could be held liable & run risk of being sued for overserving

If a cannabis lounge faced a lawsuit alleging that it overserved a patron, leading to a third-party bodily injury, the business’ Commercial General Liability (CGL) Insurance and Products Liability Insurance could potentially cover costs such as legal defense, medical expenses and settlement amounts. Until such a case occurs, it is not yet known how exactly these lawsuits would be covered by insurance.

Because of the short history of cannabis lounges in the U.S., something like this is largely untested, making it hard to speak to exactly how a scenario would play out. Many of the existing cannabis insurance policies are highly exclusionary, meaning it could exclude a loss that is deemed to have arisen out of the use of cannabis.

Recent liquor liability lawsuits have shown the potential for a significant loss is clear. In early April 2022, a $20 million lawsuit was filed against a nightclub in Houston, Texas, alleging it overserved customers and allowed underage drinking, contributing to a drunk driving crash that killed a teenager.

In December 2021, a jury in Texas awarded the family of two drunk driving victims over $301 billion after a lawsuit alleged the driver was overserved at a bar before the accident; though largely symbolic, the settlement marked the largest personal injury award in U.S. history.

The Barbary Coast lounge in San Francisco

With these cannabis lounge establishments more or less encouraging intoxication of patrons on their premises, it’s very similar to a liquor liability type situation. If someone overindulges at a lounge, leaves and causes a crash resulting in injury or death, that could come back to the establishment.

While it remains to be seen how cannabis overserving lawsuits could play out in American courts, it’s worth noting Canada forbids on-site consumption of cannabis products and any loss or damage will not be covered by their insurance policies – despite it being legal country-wide.

Lawsuits possible over product issues, budtender advice

Even cannabis operations that do not allow on-site consumption can face liability related to the products they sell, making Products Liability Insurance and Product Recall Insurance necessary for growers and retailers. They should also consider Employment Practices Liability (EPL) Insurance to cover staffing-related allegations such as discrimination and ask their insurance broker whether budtender liability is included in their CGL Insurance policy.

Budtenders must walk a fine line between giving advice versus general information on products.

Budtenders, or individuals who work at cannabis retailers, are not allowed to offer medical advice to consumers. They must walk a fine line between giving advice versus general information on products. Although we are not aware of lawsuits that have been filed over a budtender’s advice, it would ultimately be up to the courts and lawyers as to how those proceedings would play out.

Budtender liability is not very different from professional liability insurance, and it’s more like an incidental coverage based off the budtender’s informal advice. There are, indeed, insurance carrier partners today that offer that service.

CGL Insurance can also cover in-store slip-and-falls and other third-party injuries and property damage. Because most cannabis retail stores are fairly small, these incidents have been rare, but GCL cannot be overlooked. Businesses must be prepared for anything to happen – and need to know that no risk is too small.

Theft, vandalism among top threats to cannabis businesses

Whether or not a cannabis business includes a lounge for cannabis use, any business in this industry may be more vulnerable to certain risks, including theft and vandalism.

In the U.S., where many cannabis companies operate on a cash-only basis because of banking difficulties tied to recreational products being federally illegal, a recent surge in cannabis shop robberies has led to calls for a new banking bill. Some of these incidents have even turned deadly, including an April 30 dispensary robbery in Los Angeles, California, during which one man was reportedly shot and killed.

Many insurance carriers require retailers to install alarm systems, video monitoring equipment or safes

Large amounts of cash are on-hand daily at these premises, and workers might have to make multiple bank runs throughout the day, leaving a heightened exposure and risk for robberies.

From robberies and vandalism to fires and flooding, Commercial Property Insurance is a key protection for cannabis retailers. Equipment Breakdown Insurance may also be needed, particularly when the stores contain expensive refrigeration equipment. The potential loss is large in this industry, especially at growing facilities, and there’s a lot at stake with such high-value equipment.

Security systems, employee training can help reduce risks

Many insurance carriers require business owners to install alarm systems, video monitoring equipment or safes to help reduce potential property losses, and employees should be trained to use the alarm systems consistently. Policyholders and business owners should also know there is a lot they can do to curb some of the risks, such as businesses doing background checks on every hire and taking steps to ensure they are hiring individuals they can trust.

Installing bars on glass windows and doors is another loss prevention measure that is strongly encouraged because it adds an additional layer of security to get through – it won’t be an easy or quick process to break-in and will trigger the alarm system.

The importance of working with an insurance broker

Working with an insurance broker who is specialized in the cannabis industry can help business owners better explore available coverage options. With cannabis or any type of risk, you should always work with someone who has knowledge and expertise in that area. When you work with someone who knows the ins-and-outs of the regulations, you can have more peace of mind.

You might have a risk warranty that always requires two drivers in that vehicle, or GPS monitoring on the vehicle.

Understanding your policy in its entirety is also essential, as these policies have any number of different limitations and exclusionary forms that could preclude you from collecting if you had not understood and followed the language of the policy.

In a transportation situation, for example, you might have a risk warranty that always requires two drivers in that vehicle, or GPS monitoring on the vehicle. In the event of a claim, if the investigation determines the business did not have those items present at the time of loss, that claim will not be covered.

In a rapidly growing and changing industry, business owners should not underestimate the value of working with a team of insurance experts who keep a close pulse on the quickly evolving industry. Brokers are aware of the different legal environments in each state or even each city or county. Cities and counties can add different levels of compliance matters, so as a buyer, you can be confident that you have the most recent information and are in compliance with state law and any insurance requirements that may be present. Being able to explain the differences between the markets and the coverage options is beneficial to any business owner in this ever-changing industry.

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

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

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

Surging M&A activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recurring issues in cannabis acquisitions

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

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

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

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

Several of these issues merit special attention:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not as simple as it seems

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

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

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

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


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

Cannabis Banking: The Ins, the Outs & the Unknowns

By Tamara L. Kolb, Amy Bean, Caitlin Strelioff
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As the legal cannabis market expands, banks and nonbank financial institutions (NBFIs) across the United States continue to explore how to safely provide banking and other financial services to cannabis-related businesses (CRBs) and other CRB ecosystem players. At the same time, these organizations are taking into account changes they might need to consider relative to their Bank Secrecy Act ( BSA), anti-money laundering (AML) and related compliance programs. 

Regulatory conundrum

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) identifies the cannabis plant and all its derivatives as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Schedule 1 controlled substances have a “high abuse potential with no accepted medical use,” and they cannot be “prescribed, dispensed, or administered.” Because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the CSA “imposes strict controls on possession, manufacturing, distribution, and dispensing” of cannabis.

Under the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 (MLCA) and the BSA as amended, covered banks and NBFIs are prohibited from providing financial services to businesses that are engaged in illicit activities. Because federal law prohibits the distribution and sale of cannabis, financial transactions involving CRBs are therefore deemed to be transactions that involve funds derived from illegal activities.

As of Feb. 3, 2022, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to regulate cannabis for adult use. Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia and four territories have approved comprehensive, publicly available medical and cannabis programs. Eleven states allow for the use of low-THC, high-CBD substances for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense.

The growing divide between federal prohibition and state legalization of the cannabis industry creates a precarious position for federally regulated banks and NBFIs with the main concern involving exposure to legal, operational and regulatory risk. The situation begs the question: How might the federal government and regulators pursue and prosecute players in the legal cannabis industry?

The current economic trajectory predicts that retail sales of legal cannabis products in the U.S. will surpass an estimated $41.5 billion annually by 2025, and many banks and NBFIs are eagerly awaiting the federal green light to do business with CRBs without fear of prosecution or legal ramifications.

From 2018 forward, Congress has made several attempts to pass legislation that would protect CRBs when cultivating, distributing, marketing, and selling cannabis products in their state-legalized form. These efforts to declassify cannabis-related activity as a specified unlawful activity have thus far been unsuccessful.

The House passing the MORE Act back in 2020

Passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2021 (SAFE Banking Act) and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act) would enable banks and NBFIs to provide financial services to CRBs. The SAFE Banking Act would provide a safe harbor for banks and NBFIs that provide financial services to CRBs. The MORE Act would deschedule cannabis from the CSA entirely.

Questions to ask

Banks and NBFIs interested in providing financial services to CRBs should ask these questions:

  • Do we adequately understand our risk, and what are the implications for our organization? How should we augment our risk assessment process and our controls?
  • To what extent are we willing to accept the risk of banking CRBs? Do we have the ability to identify CRB customers, and if so, do we have any?
  • How should we advise the board of directors about setting risk appetite?
  • What customer due diligence (CDD) and enhanced due diligence (EDD) will we need to safely continue with existing customers and onboard new ones?
  • How will we monitor for unusual and suspicious activity? What will be the alerting and judgmental criteria?
  • How will our resource needs change so that we stay abreast of new processes and controls?

Risk appetite considerations

In order to determine whether to accept or prohibit CRBs, banks and NBFIs should identify the level of acceptable risk they are willing to take on. Several key components need to be considered, such as:

  • The board of directors’ stance on legal cannabis, given that good governance recommends and regulators expect that the board sets risk appetite
  • Cannabis laws in states within the customer footprint and the impact on customers’ communities
  • Risk profile, customer base, geographic location, products, and services
  • Relationship with regulators and any recent deficiencies or weaknesses in the BSA and associated compliance programs
  • Ability to implement appropriate controls and staffing

 Developing a strategic road map

If the decision is made to bank CRBs, banks and NBFIs should perform an assessment of compliance maturity for existing BSA/AML program processes and controls to identify potential gaps and develop a strategic road map that helps the organization achieve its vision for future state compliance and sustainable operations. 

A well-developed and well-articulated strategic road map visualizes what actions or key outcomes are needed to help organizations achieve their long-term goals. When creating the road map, banks and NBFIs need to demonstrate a keen understanding of their desired strategy, outcomes, markets, and products for onboarding and banking CRB customers. Specifically, banks and NBFIs need to define and explain how desired outcomes and business strategies create risk and exposure.

In addition to a road map, banks and NBFIs should develop and document a detailed risk-based approach that is aligned to the organization’s risk tolerance to determine necessary compliance steps when banking CRB customers.

Specifically, the following activities should be considered when developing a CRB banking program that meets regulatory expectations:

  • Identifying BSA/AML control gaps related to CRB risk identification and mitigation and formulating a plan to address them
  • Updating a board-approved policy framework
  • Updating detailed operating policies and procedures
  • Planning for capacity, developing job descriptions, and onboarding new personnel
  • Training for all three lines of defense, senior management, and the board
  • Developing and documenting a phased or full approach to acceptance of CRB customers
  • Developing and documenting a CRB program oversight policy

CRB risk framework

A three-tiered CRB risk framework first proposed in 2016 has quickly become the cannabis industry standard. The framework has evolved and expanded comprehensively to consider many types of CRBs, and evolving legal systems continue to refine the framework.

This framework is intended to help banks and NBFIs differentiate types of CRBs and their corresponding risks, and it separates CRBs into three tiers and details risks for each tier. The following exhibit summarizes the approach:

Risk framework by tier

Level Risk
Tier 1 Direct
Tier 2 Indirect with substantial revenue from Tier 1
Tier 3 Indirect with incidental revenue from Tier 1

Source: CRB Monitor

Even the most conservative of risk appetites equivalent to outright prohibition is not devoid of significant risk considerations. Residual risk frequently encompasses a large number of indirect connections in the total CRB ecosystem. Common examples are printers, lawyers, accountants, landlords, and even utilities and taxing authorities, and all of these are subject to regulatory scrutiny and, importantly, visibility to law enforcement. Also, policies to prohibit or restrict will be audited and examined for compliance, and exceptions will require explanations.

This panorama necessitates expertise and prudence in identifying and evaluating risks within the many layers of CRBs. For example, consider a bank or NBFI that banks a CRB’s employee or vendor. If a bank fails to properly implement controls that would allow it to identify and mitigate risk associated with banking CRBs, it will be susceptible to severe violations of the BSA, including civil money penalties, criminal penalties, and regulatory enforcement actions. 

Implementing necessary precautions

A well-developed road map should consider and implement the following activities:

  • Understanding the most current state and federal cannabis laws and regulations to ensure the bank or NBFI’s compliance
  • Understanding the local, state, or tribal program to ensure CRB customers are compliant with the program
  • Implementing a CRB risk assessment
  • Implementing executive approval practices for direct CRBs
  • Developing adequate risk ratings (possibly through a risk-based, tiered approach) and corresponding monitoring for CRB customers that includes:
    • Integrating various customer onboarding and AML solutions at both onboarding and periodic levels
    • Scheduling regular reviews to include recurring enhanced due diligence, site visits, and transaction monitoring
    • Monitoring for suspicious activity, including red flags, via open sources for adverse information about the CRB customers and related parties such as beneficial owners
  • Performing adequate CDD and EDD that will validate that the CRB-offered products, services, and programs are compliant with most current state laws and regulations by:
    • Collecting appropriate documentation as evidence of compliance, perhaps including a comprehensive onboarding questionnaire, beneficial ownership information, and contracts for the growing, harvesting, transporting and processing of the product
    • Reviewing applications and supporting documentation used to obtain a legal cannabis state license
    • Understanding the normal and expected activity of the organization’s CRB customers and their product usage
  • Developing adequate training programs and governance and oversight programs to address this customer type by:
    • Updating existing policies and procedures to review inherent risk presented by banking CRB customers
    • Updating annual training for employees
  • Auditing initial program design and periodic operational effectiveness

Moving forward cautiously

The ins, outs, and unknowns of cannabis banking are complex, and they require banks and NBFIs to be extremely vigilant with current policy and aware of new developments. Overall, the idea of creating a cannabis program might seem like a daunting task, but with appropriate guidance and care, organizations can provide services in compliance with laws and regulations.

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

Petri dish containing the fungus Aspergillus flavus

Salmonella & Aspergillus: Controlling Risk in Your Supply Chain

By Cameron Prince
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Petri dish containing the fungus Aspergillus flavus

Risk management is the process of identifying potential hazards, assessing the associated risk, then implementing controls to mitigate those risks. With Salmonella and Aspergillus being two of the leading causes of cannabis contamination that can occur throughout the supply chain, applying upstream risk management strategies can keep supplier contamination issues from impacting your products.

Salmonella enteritidis

In recent months cannabis products have been recalled for Salmonella and/or Aspergillus contamination in several states, including California, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, as well as Canada. While the recalls impacted retail products, in most cases, the contamination occurred farther back in the supply chain, as evidenced by recalls that impacted several dispensaries or other sales locations.

For example, the November 2021 Arizona recall caused multiple establishments and dispensaries to recall product due to possible contamination with Salmonella or Aspergillus; the Michigan recall of an estimated $229 million in cannabis products due to “inaccurate and/or unreliable results of products tested.” While a lab lawsuit against the recall released some of the product to market, the companies faced significant impact – in both removing and returning the product.

While microbial contamination can occur throughout the supply chain, Aspergillus is ubiquitous in soil and the flower, leaves, roots of the cannabis plant are all susceptible to such contamination. The mold also can colonize the bud both during growing and harvesting. Salmonella can be introduced during growing through, untreated manures, direct contact with animal feces, or contamination of surface water used for irrigation. However, the plant matter also can be compromised during drying, storage and processing from environmental contamination.

Petri dish containing the fungus Aspergillus flavus
Aspergillus flavus

Supply chain risk management. To prevent a supplier’s contamination issues from becoming your problem to deal with, each facility at each step of the chain should develop a supply chain risk management program to assess and approve each of its upstream providers. Following are 5 key steps to assessing and managing risk in your supply chain:

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis. A complete supply chain assessment should begin with a hazard assessment of all the ingredients, products or primary packaging you receive. There are two essential steps involved in conducting a hazard analysis: that is the identification of potential hazards – considering those related to the item itself, as well as the supplier environment and process as well as item – and an evaluation to determine if each hazard requires control based on its severity and likely occurrence.
  2. Evaluate the risks. Based on the hazard analysis, the next step is to determine the associated risk. As defined by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), “a hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm while risk is the likelihood of harm taking place, based on exposure to that hazard.” For example, the higher the exposure, the higher the risk.
  3. Ensure risk control. Once risk is determined, it is critical to ensure that it is being controlled, who is controlling it and how it is being done. Depending on the risk, that control may need to be conducted by the supplier, by you or even by a downstream customer.
  4. Require documentation. No matter which step in the chain is controlling the risk, it is essential that all be documented with records easily accessible – including the controls, any out-of-compliance events and corrective actions. The adage, “If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen,” is very applicable here, particularly should a problem arise and an inspector appear at your door.
  5. Use only approved suppliers. Implementation of the above steps enable the development of a supplier approval program focused on quality, safety and regulatory compliance. Use of only suppliers who have been assessed and found to meet all your standards will help to protect your product and your brand.

Salmonella and Aspergillus contamination can occur throughout the supply chain, but implementing a supply chain risk assessment and management program will enable you to determine where the greatest risks lie among your ingredients and suppliers, allowing you to allocate resources based on that risk.

Top Five Insurances Cannabis Businesses Need in 2022

By Eric Rahn
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Cannabis remains one of the fastest growing industries with no signs of slowing down. According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, the legal cannabis market is poised to grow 20-30% per year to the tune of $50 billion by 2026.[1]With great opportunity comes numerous risks. Claims and lawsuits against cannabis businesses are increasing in frequency and magnitude. As an insurance broker who specializes in the cannabis industry and works with a wide variety of cannabis, hemp and CBD businesses in every state where cannabis laws are established, our recent analysis has unveiled the top five insurances your cannabis business needs in 2022.

  1. General Liability

General liability is the most essential coverage your business needs to protect you from a variety of claims including personal injury, bodily harm, property damage and other situations that may arise including slander, libel, copyright infringement and more.

Since general liability is not always required to obtain a cannabis license, many businesses are tempted to forgo the expense. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as one single lawsuit has the potential to cripple your business. With a comprehensive, cannabis-specific general liability insurance policy in place, your insurance company, not you, will pay medical expenses and property damage claims from third parties, in addition to hefty legal fees and fines.

  1. Property & Casualty Insurance
P&C insurance is an important part of your security and protection plan.

If you own a dispensary, grow operation, warehouse, testing facility or any other type of cannabis business with inventory, you need to protect your assets from potential loss or damage. Property & casualty (P&C) insurance safeguards your business against common and costly perils such as a fire, lightning, explosion/implosion, and even less common – but still possible – risks like riots, strikes and terrorism.

P&C insurance not only pays for damages to your business property resulting from a covered loss but it also covers the contents within your place of business, including office furniture, computers, inventory and other assets essential to your business operations. There are policies that will also provide the funds required to keep your business afloat until the damages from the loss are repaired. Any cannabis business with a physical property and location(s) should have a comprehensive property and casualty P&C policy in place.

  1. Product Liability/Product Recall

Recently, we’ve seen a dramatic influx of product liability claims, and in particular, product recalls. Lawsuits have ranged from a single plaintiff seeking damages for personal injuries to class action lawsuits where a defective product is tied to an entire group of claimants.

control the room environment
Preventing contamination can save a business from extremely costly recalls. Having the right insurance can prevent a recall from becoming costly in the first place.

As a cannabis business owner, you can be sued for any damage resulting from products that cause harm to others, this includes false advertising, mislabeled or defective products. No matter where you are in the supply chain, your business could be held liable. The process of defending litigation or reaching a settlement agreement can completely drain a company’s resources. You’ll have to deal with regulatory compliance, producing and distributing product warnings, recalling products, claim investigation, product testing and additional risk assessment.

Product liability insurance is often overlooked, especially by small to mid-size businesses. However, your cannabis business needs this type of coverage if you sell any goods or products that end up in the hands of the public. In fact, your business may be contractually obligated to have product liability insurance. One such lawsuit is enough to fold a business due to costly legal fees and fines, as well reputation damage beyond repair.

Product liability insurance is designed to protect your cannabis company from claims that can happen anywhere along the supply chain, including product contamination, mislabeled products, false advertising or defective products. With proper coverage, your insurance company will pay for damages and legal expenses if you are sued, up to your policy limits. Your product liability policy will also cover any medical expenses for those who are harmed by your business. Making sure your insurance policy includes product liability insurance should be a top priority in 2022.

  1. Cyber Defense/Data Breach Insurance

Cyber fraud and data breaches are two of the greatest risks facing cannabis companies in 2022. With so much cash pouring into the space, cannabis businesses of all sizes are bulls-eye targets for cybercriminals. Even the smallest of cannabis businesses are at risk of data breaches because they are part of a larger interconnected network of seed to sale vendors. These types of crimes can have detrimental effects on your business in numerous ways. In the case of a data breach resulting in the disclosure of a third party’s private information, the third party could sue your business. The SEC could also find your company negligent in cyber fraud cases and impose significant fines.

By forgoing cyber defense & data breach insurance, your business will be solely responsible for expensive legal bills, significant revenue losses and hefty fines and penalties from regulators. Cyber defense & data breach insurance is a must-have coverage in 2022, and beyond, to protect your business from cybercrimes.

  1. Directors & Officers Insurance

If you are looking to secure venture capital or funding from investors in 2022, and/or attract and retain qualified leadership, you need directors & officers (D&O) Insurance. D&O protects corporate directors and officers, as well as their spouses and estates, from being personally liable in the event your company is sued by investors, employees, vendors, competitors, customers, or other parties, for actual or alleged wrongful acts in managing the company. In the event of litigation, your D&O insurance will cover legal fees, fines, settlements and other expensive costs.

D&O is often the most overlooked coverage because many cannabis businesses are independently run, and no one foresees the potential for operational failures and mismanagement. However, businesses with any sort of vision for growth should make D&O a top priority. It not only protects your current executives and board members but is critical in attracting leading talent in the space, as well as drawing in new investors to scale up your business. In fact, we’re seeing more prospective investors and board members requiring D&O insurance prior to engaging with a company to ensure they are fully protected in the event of litigation.

When it comes to mitigating risk in this business, the stakes are sky high. Cannabis companies that have not incorporated risk management into their business/operational plans will need to in 2022. It all boils down to the THREE P’s: being “Proactive, Prepared and Protected.”

2022 Cannabis Industry Outlook: Your Business’ Future Depends on its Risk Management

Cannabis risks have always outpaced the availability of insurance, in large part because of its status as a federally illegal substance and the dangers in extraction and production. But it now shares many of the same risks as other industries — catastrophic crop damage, cyber risk and a shortage of skilled workers.

With legalization becoming more common, the industry is positioned for enormous growth despite these challenges. However, enterprises that will benefit the most are those best positioned to manage risk.

Here are four obstacles to growth in the industry in 2022 and how enterprises can combat them:

Cybercrime will be the top manufacturing risk

Both cybercrime and cannabis have experienced major booms since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis companies watched as healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations were hit hard by cybercriminals in 2020, and now the threat could be headed their way.

For retailers, the vulnerability often lies in their POS tech

For cannabis retailers, the vulnerability lies in their dependence on point-of-sale tech, while the threat for cultivators exists within their strong use of intelligent automation to manage the grow environment. Across the industry, the lack of sophisticated IT security systems is like a beacon for bad actors.

Nearly 60% of cannabis businesses say they haven’t taken the necessary steps to prevent cyberattack, but the winds are changing. Due to these concerns and the growing attention on cybercrime in the industry, cyber coverage is expected to rise 30% or more in 2022, which puts the onus on risk management practices that will help prevent cyberattacks and ensure coverage from insurers concerned about risk.

Barriers to business growth may result in more M&A

As of summer 2021, 18 U.S. states have legalized adult use and 37 states have legalized medical cannabis.

While this is opening opportunities for many cannabis businesses, the U.S. remains a complicated market. Federal regulations continue to hinder even more cannabis industry growth by restricting lending to the industry from traditional banking and financial institutions. While it’s not illegal to do service with the cannabis industry, many institutions stay away due to its high risk.

Smaller cannabis companies are impacted most heavily by this barrier and await passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking and Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Acts to allow easier access to capital. Together, these two acts of legislation will provide guidelines on how to work lawfully with legal cannabis businesses and prohibit penalizing or discouraging institutions from working with them.

In the meantime, M&A activity is expected to increase in 2022 as large cannabis businesses have the means to access capital and acquire these small companies. This includes Canadian cannabis companies, unburdened by federal restrictions, who are expected to increase their cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

Severe weather isn’t easing up

Extreme natural catastrophes are no longer rare, and they have only added greater uncertainty to the industry which has always had difficulties securing crop insurance.

NASA’s Aqua satellite took this picture of the smoke over California in 2017
Photo: NASA

For example, policies that transfer wind and hurricane damage risk in Florida or wildfire and smoke taint in California are virtually non-existent for cannabis — and for outdoor growers, a single weather event can wipe out an entire crop with no recourse.

One possible solution for cannabis companies that cannot secure traditional crop insurance is parametric insurance, which pays out in full when a weather element reaches a threshold, regardless of the actual damage.

Growers with indoor operations, or those considering moving that way, must cope with energy conservation initiatives. Measures like the one in California that would require indoor growers to use LED lighting by 2023 could cost the industry millions and present a direct threat to small operations’ viability. This makes it important for cannabis producers to institute conservation measures and undertake risk mitigation measures like improved safety measures at indoor growth facilities ahead of 2022 renewals.

As a continually emerging market, cannabis risks are great. Adding to these pressures is the growing impacts of climate change and cybercrime raising the bar even further. Growth for the cannabis industry in 2022 will depend upon strong risk management solutions and the ability for cannabis companies to implement them.

Nonprofits Focus Lens on Delta-8-THC

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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On December 2, ASTM International, released a whitepaper called “Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol and the Need to Develop Standards to Protect Safety of Consumers.” On the same day, the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) launched an expert panel, drafting commentary and providing recommendations to protect public health. The two organizations are working in tandem to better educate the public as well as regulators on the science behind the risks that delta-8-THC products pose to the public.

The chemical structure of Delta 8 THC.

ASTM has been working in the cannabis industry through their D37 committee since March of 2017. Soon after the D37 committee launched, they began crafting cannabis standards and have grown their membership and subcommittees considerably over the past few years. USP has also been involved in the cannabis space for quite some time, developing reference standards and offering guidance for the cannabis testing market.

The ASTM whitepaper details the current landscape for hemp-based products that contain delta-8-thc derived from CBD. It includes information on what the cannabinoid is, how it’s produced, the emergence of delta-8-thc in hemp markets and the need for better safety and performance standards.

David Vaillencourt, frequent CIJ contributor and ASTM International member, says they want to identify how we can maintain public safety when it comes to delta-8-THC. “Products containing delta-8-THC are widely available to consumers despite the known and unknown risks to consumer health and safety,” says Vaillencourt. “The topic is much deeper than simply the presence of delta-8-THC. Rather it is about defining how to label products containing potentially intoxicating cannabinoids and identifying what safeguards need to be in place to minimize the risk of impurities that can further impact consumer health.”

In addition to the technical information provided, ASTM’s whitepaper also discusses the risks of synthetic cannabinoids to public health and the regulatory landscape surrounding delta-8-THC. USP’s whitepaper discusses the chemical process that creates delta-8-THC, the unregulated market and offers guidance on how to regulate the cannabinoid with labeling and testing rules.

Dr. Ikhlas Khan, chairman of USP’s expert panel on cannabis, says we need a lot more research.  “The fact of the matter is that little is known about the products labeled as containing delta-8, so much so that the FDA and CDC have both released advisories about the products,” says Khan. “Depending on how the products are produced, unknown impurities may be introduced, including minor and synthetic cannabinoid compounds that are not naturally occurring in cannabis.”

Delta-8-THC is not inherently unsafe, says Dr. Nandakumara Sarma, Director of Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines for USP. But as we’ve covered this before, the methods that manufacturers use to produce delta-8-THC could have harmful byproducts present in final products. “Synthetically derived cannabinoids are not necessarily inherently unsafe if they are quality controlled and shown to be safe,” says Dr. Sarma. “By using public quality standards, we can help in controlling the quality of the products and set appropriate limits for impurities.”

The folks at USP and ASTM will host a presentation on the two papers during ASTM’s 2nd Global Workshop on Advancing the Field of Cannabis through Standardization, to be held virtually Dec. 14, 2021. Click here to register.