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The Inflated THC Crisis Plaguing California Cannabis

By Erik Paulson, Josh Swider, Zachary Eisenberg
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Fraud

The THC content you see on a label when you walk into a dispensary? There is a very good chance the number is false.

In every state with regulated cannabis, there is a requirement to label the potency of products so consumers can make informed purchasing and medicating decisions. The regulations usually state that the THC/cannabinoid content on the label must be within a particular relative percent difference of the actual tested results for the product to be salable. In California, that threshold is +/- 10%.

The problem is, with all the focus on THC percentage in flower and concentrate products, enormous pressure has been placed on cultivators and manufacturers to push their numbers up. Higher numbers = higher prices. But unfortunately, improving their growing, extraction and formulation processes only gets companies so far. So, they proceed to ‘lab shop’: giving their business to whichever lab provides them the highest potency.

There are roughly 50 Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) licensed labs in the state, and competition is fierce to maintain market share in a maturing and plateauing industry. Whereas competition used to be healthy and revolved around quality, turnaround time and customer service, now it’s essentially become a numbers game. As a result, many labs have sacrificed their scientific integrity to chase what the clients want: higher THC potency results without contaminant failures. The practice has become so prevalent that labs openly advertise their higher potency values to gain customers without fear of recourse. Here are two examples:

 

Over a year ago, a few labs fed up with what was happening got together to determine the extent of the potency inflation issue. We proactively purchased and tested over 150 randomly chosen flower samples off dispensary shelves. The results were staggering. Eighty-seven percent of the samples failed their label claims (i.e., were >10% deviant of their labeled values), with over half of the samples >20% deviant of their labeled THC values (i.e., over 2x the legal permitted variance). Additionally, our labs found multiple cases of unreported category 1 pesticides in some of the analyzed samples at multiple times the legal limit – a significant public health concern. The deceit was not limited to small cultivators trying to get by but also some of the industry’s biggest brands.

The same issues and economic conditions are in play for concentrates. Manufacturers of these products also hunt for the highest D9 THC values because wholesale prices for distillate are determined by THC content: <86% for the lowest value, 86-88%, 88-90% and >90%, with a new price point for over 94%. As a result, consumers can walk into a dispensary and find concentrates like the one shown below that report>99% total cannabinoids (>990mg/g) and contains almost 10% additional terpenes. You don’t have to be an analytical chemist to realize those numbers add up to well over 100%, which is physically impossible.

Blame

Everyone can agree that the system is broken, but who is at fault? Should the blame be placed on dispensaries, many of whom use THC % as their only purchasing or marketing metric? Or on cultivators, manufacturers and distributors, who seek the highest results possible rather than the most accurate ones? Or on the labs themselves, who are knowingly reporting inflated results?

Ultimately, the individual businesses are acting in their own self-interest, and many are participating in this practice simply to stay afloat. Dispensaries can’t reasonably be expected to know which results are inflated and which are not. Cultivators and manufacturers feel obligated to use labs that provide them with the highest results; otherwise, they’re putting themselves at a disadvantage relative to their competitors. Likewise, labs that aren’t willing to inflate their numbers have to be ready to watch customers walk out the door to maintain their principles – an existential dilemma for many.

The primary reason why potency inflation has become so prevalent is that there have been no negative repercussions for those that are cheating.  

The axiom is true – don’t hate the player, hate the game. Unlike most businesses, testing labs operating with integrity want meaningful regulations and oversight to assure a level playing field. Without them, the economics force a race to the bottom where labs either have to inflate more and more or go out of business. Since 2016, the DCC (formerly BCC) has taken zero meaningful actions to discourage or crackdown on potency inflation— not a single recall of an inflated product or license suspension of an inflating lab— so predictably, the problem has gotten progressively worse over time.

So, to answer the question above – who is at fault for our broken system? The answer is simple: the DCC.

Inaction

In the Fall of 2021, we began engaging with the DCC to address the industry’s potency inflation concerns. The DCC requested we provide them with direct evidence of our accusations, so we collected and shared the flower data mentioned above. The Department tested the same batches off the shelf and confirmed our results. Somehow not a single recall was issued – even for the batches containing category 1 pesticides.

We pushed for more accountability, and DCC Director Nicole Elliott assured us steps were being taken: “The Department is in the process of establishing a number of mechanisms to strengthen compliance with and accountability around the testing methods required of labs and will be sharing more about that in the near future.”

Instead, we got a standardized cannabinoid potency method (mandated by SB 544) that all labs will be required to use. On the surface, a standardized methodology sounds like a good thing to level the playing field by forcing suspect labs into accepting generally accepted best practices. In reality, however, most labs already use the same basic methodology for flower and concentrate cannabinoid profiling and inflate their results using a variety of other mechanisms: selective sampling, using advantageous reference materials, manipulating data, etc. Furthermore, the method mandated is outdated and will flatly not work for various complex matrices such as gummies, topicals, beverages, fruit chews and more. If adopted without changes, it would be a disaster for manufacturers of these products and the labs that test them. Nevertheless, the press release issued by the DCC reads as though they’ve earned a pat on the back and delivered the silver bullet to the potency inflation issue.

Here are a few more meaningful actions the DCC could take that would help combat potency inflation:

  • Perform routine surveillance sampling and testing of products off of store shelves either at the DCC’s internal lab or by leveraging DCC licensed private labs.
  • Recall products found to be guilty of extreme levels of potency inflation.
  • Conduct in-person, unannounced audits of all labs, perhaps focusing on those reporting statistically higher THC results.
  • Conduct routine round-robin studies where every lab tests the same sample and outliers are identified.
  • Shutdown labs that are unable or unwilling to remediate their potency inflation issues.

For some less disciplinary suggestions:

  • Remove incentives for potency inflation, like putting a tax on THC percentage
  • Set up routine training sessions for labs to address areas of concern and improve communication with the DCC

Fight

Someone might retort – who cares if the number is slightly higher than it should be? No one will notice a little less THC in their product. A few counterpoints:

  1. Consumers are being lied to and paying more for less THC.
  2. Medical cannabis users depend on specific dosages for intended therapeutic effects.
  3. Ethical people who put their entire lives into cultivating quality cannabis, manufacturing quality products and accurately testing cannot compete with those willing to cheat. If things get worse, only the unethical actors will be left.
  4. Labs that inflate potency are more likely to ignore the presence of contaminants, like the category 1 pesticides we found in our surveillance testing.
  5. This single compound, delta-9 THC, is the entire reason why this industry is so highly regulated. If we are not measuring it accurately, why regulate it at all?

We will continue to fight for a future where quality and ethics in the cannabis industry are rewarded rather than penalized. And consumers can have confidence in the quality and safety of the products they purchase. Our labs are willing to generate additional surveillance data, provide further suggestions for improvement in regulations/enforcement, and bring further attention to this problem. But there is a limit to what we can do. In the end, the health and future of our industry are entirely in the hands of the DCC. We hope you will join us in calling on them to enact meaningful and necessary changes that address this problem.

Don’t Go Down with the Ship: How to Create a Cash Influx for Your Cannabis Business During Hard Times

By Adam Benko, Brian Mayfield
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It takes a lot to hack it in the wild world of cannabis.

To dip your toes in this game and open your own business, it could cost you between a quarter to three-quarters of a million dollars after licensure and other start-up expenses – and the battle doesn’t end there. Recent data supports that the turnover rate for the cannabis industry at large is extremely high when compared to other industries, coming in at a whopping 40-60% within the first 2 months.

Oh, and let’s not forget: we’re not living in the easiest of times in general. The Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports that inflation has hit 9.1 percent, the highest ever recorded level of inflation since records began. We know that people are struggling all over the place – and those struggles are even more amplified for cannabis operators and business owners. It’s no secret that amid these struggles, many legacy operators, MSOs and mom-and-pop brands alike are making the tough decision to take on costly loans, seek funding or even ultimately close their doors.

Every time a customer abandons their cart, your business is leaving money on the table.

But, in times like these, you have to remember what brought you to the table to begin with. The cannabis industry is still projected to hit a valuation of over $33B by the end of 2022 and despite the blood in the water that we’ve seen lately, operators of all sizes are still getting wins and making a profit. So, do you throw the towel in and give up on your dreams? Should you just accept that all hope is lost?

Absolutely not.

If you’re a cannabis operator who is struggling, you aren’t alone – and more importantly, you aren’t out of options yet. Not ready to go down with the ship just yet? We didn’t think so.

Here are five, expert-approved tips to create an influx of cash for your cannabis business without significantly increasing spending:

  1. ‘Trim the Fat’ of Your Business by Cutting Lean Costs

While it may seem obvious, many cannabis operators forget that “nice to have” is not the same thing as a “must have” when it comes to keeping your doors open and your bottom line healthy. Take an eagle-eyed second look at your budget and cut back as much as possible on areas that aren’t boosting revenue. Reconsider the “extras” – like software solutions, hiring non-essential staff and slow-moving inventory – and focus your attention on the products that contribute the most to your bottom line.

  1. Make Your Customers a Priority
Focus your attention on the products that contribute the most to your bottom line.

One of the biggest mistakes that cannabis brands make is throwing so much of their marketing budget into getting new customers through the door while neglecting to show existing customers the attention they deserve for their loyalty. In today’s market, cannabis consumers have more options than ever. Why should they keep choosing you? Happy customers are customers that will weather the storm with you. Honing in on targeted ads and marketing efforts geared toward existing customers, in combination with loyalty perks, VIP deals and more is a great way to ensure your business is truly unforgettable in the eyes of the customers that keep your doors open. Looking for an extra leg up? Here’s an insider pro tip: refer-a-friend programs are a great way to get the best of both worlds and help those marketing dollars stretch a little further.

  1. SOS: Save Our Shopping Carts

Shopping cart abandonment is a serious problem for cannabis retailers – and it happens all the time. For mobile users, it can creep as high as 85%. Shopping cart abandonment happens when a potential customer visits your site, builds an order in the cart and then either forgets to check out or chose not to execute the purchase. Every time a customer abandons their cart, your business is leaving money on the table. Fight back against shopping cart abandonment by providing clear calls to action through the shopping and checkout process and targeting customers with emails or SMS messages that include discount offers or reminders to check out.

  1. Pump Up Your Payment Solutions

It’s like Canadian rapper and singer-songwriter, Drake, said in his hit song, “Omerta”, “I don’t carry cash ‘cause the money is digital.” 

Payment providers often give back a portion of transaction fees to business owners.

Let’s be honest, it’s 2022 – not a lot of people love carrying around cash. If your cannabis business is cash-only, you could be missing out on extra revenue from card and mobile payment-loving customers. On average, mobile payment users, on average, spend approximately twice as much through all digital channels as those not using mobile payments. Cash-only retailers also miss out on upsell opportunities by limiting themselves – let’s say a customer comes in with $40 in cash, they won’t be able to pick up that extra pack of cones or the grinder they were eyeing up at the checkout if they’re limited to cash-only transactions.

In addition, retailers who patronize payment solutions via debit card providers or online ACH can benefit from payment kickbacks as an additional stream of income, as these payment providers often give back a portion of transaction fees to business owners.

  1. Don’t Forget About Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

If you haven’t heard of ERC – you could be leaving as much as $26,000 per employee on the table. Many cannabis business owners would be surprised to learn that they can still take advantage of the employee retention credit program that started during the pandemic.

The program was launched in March 2020 as a way to help offset the financial struggles of business owners during COVID-19. But, even this year, cannabis business owners can seek cash relief through ERC – employers can retroactively claim the ERC based on financial struggles they experienced during 2020 and the first three quarters of 2021.

Started your cannabis business after February 2020? You still may qualify under specific ERC provisions that can provide up to $100,000 in refundable credits.

At MJstack, we understand the trials and tribulations that cannabis professionals go through every day because we’re right here working alongside you.

Our team of professionals is familiar with cannabis and what it takes to make the cut in this world. Ready to boost your business and safeguard your investments against whatever comes next? Contact us today to learn more and book your FREE consultation.

Quality in the Retail Ecosystem: A Q&A with LucidaClub Founder Jack Roosevelt

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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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

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.

Jane & Leafly Join Forces: An Interview with Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane

By Aaron Green
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As retailers accept the end of in-store shopping as we know it and start adjusting to e-commerce, an improved and more involved customer experience will be imperative for an e-retailer to grow, let alone stay afloat.

Jane recently announced a strategic partnership that combines Jane’s best-in-class product catalog and business tools with Leafly’s consumer marketplace and reach. Together, the companies will build solutions that empower cannabis retailers with fast and simple online shopping experiences that increase consumer purchase behavior. The partnership will seek to help instill consumer trust in the online shopping experience, build stronger customer acquisition tools for retailers, and help dispensaries grow their ecommerce capabilities with consistency and automation.

This strategic partnership comes after a massive year of growth for both Jane and Leafly. In the past year, Jane powered over 17 million orders and $2 billion in cannabis sales, while Leafly has seen more than 4,500 cannabis retailers in North America leverage their platform to bring new customers through the door.

Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane

We spoke with Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane to learn more about e-commerce and online marketplaces and how Jane and Leafly came together as partners, rather than competitors. Prior to Jane, Socrates was an Apache helicopter pilot for the US Army later transitioning to consulting with McKinsey.

Aaron Green: Socrates, thanks for taking the time today. What trends are you seeing and following in the industry?

Socrates Rosenfeld: Always happy to chat about the industry. Thanks for having me.

If you were to ask me that question a year ago, I’d say having a digital footprint was something that would give a dispensary or a brand a nice advantage. Today, it’s a must-have for survival. Where it used to be one or the other; online or offline, now we are able to merge the two by replicating a physical store into a digitized form to extend its reach far beyond its walls.

As things become more digitized, information becomes more necessary to run operations. With that we are able to meet the expectations of the consumers who are accustomed to convenience and curation. The omnichannel experience provides the best of both worlds. Access and ease of search with the ability to pick up or have the product delivered the same day from a locally owned and run business.

Reviews are one of the most important aspects of this unification of online and offline. It is something that is lost in solely offline purchases, that we’re now able to collect and organize. This product information allows us to provide customers the purchasing power to make a well-informed decision.

At Jane, we believe it is possible to create wins for the dispensaries, brands and customers – and digitization creates the opportunity for that to happen. I think there’s no better incubator in the world than the cannabis industry to prove that online and offline retail can work in harmony.

Aaron: Jane is the largest e-commerce platform in North American cannabis and Leafly is the largest marketplace in North American cannabis. What’s the difference between an e-commerce platform and a marketplace?

Socrates: Great question. There is definitely some overlap between the two, which is why it makes so much sense for us to collaborate. Ultimately though, our focus and expertise are different. Jane’s ecommerce platform serves as the industry’s digital infrastructure that pushes digital products across various order origination points like a dispensary’s own website, a brand’s own website and now, Leafly’s marketplace. Paired with Leafly’s industry-leading content and market information, together we can complete the entire online cannabis shopping experience – from product discovery through order fulfillment.

Aaron: At first glance, one might think that Jane and Leafly are competitors. How did you see it differently? And how did this partnership come about?

Socrates: Not only is our tech complementary, but we are aligned on mission – to empower consumers, dispensaries and brands with the integrity of the plant in mind.

We want to make it simple for consumers to reach the products that will be most helpful for them. We want to make it possible for dispensaries and brands, regardless of their size, to be able to compete on an even playing field.

It all comes back to being good stewards of the industry. Education and access create a healthy demand for a diverse range of products. That means that the plant stays in the hands of many – safeguarding it from homogenization.

Aaron: How do consumers benefit from the partnership?

Socrates: It really is all about bringing this industry in line with any other retail vertical and meeting the customer where they are. It unlocks more avenues for customers to discover products and access a vast catalog of information and verified customer reviews. Bottom line, this partnership makes shopping for cannabis as simple as shopping online for everything else in the world, while also ensuring the success of the sellers.

Aaron: When you say the sellers, are you talking about the dispensary or the brands?

Socrates: Both, we want to provide value for the entire ecosystem. We can do that directly for dispensaries and brands by enabling an automated ecommerce platform that they can use to power their own website. At Jane, we know that technology can unlock value for everyone, where it is not a zero-sum game and success for one means success for the other. With Jane, both the dispensaries and the brands win.

Aaron: What kind of regulatory challenges do you face through the partnership?

Socrates: There are no real regulatory challenges for the partnership itself. The entire industry operates under regulatory challenges, but it is those regulations that have been the catalyst for innovation. I see the opportunity for legal online payments and national product distribution to play a large role in shaping the industry soon, and a partnership like this will ensure a seamless transition for the industry as things continue to evolve.

Aaron: Final question. What are you personally interested in learning more about?

Socrates: I’ve always been curious about disruptive models. The companies, not just in tech, but any company that has set out to do things differently and has been able to hold true to a vision. That’s what interests me, and I think I will always have something to learn and draw inspiration from. 

Aaron: Excellent, that’s the end of the interview, Socrates!

Socrates: Thanks, Aaron.

Soapbox

Need to Improve Your Cannabis Initiatives? Consider Marker-based Augmented Reality

By Amanda Byrd
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Augmented Reality (AR) used to be something us mere humans only dreamt about. Now, AR is the norm and is seen in thousands of apps that people use every day. In fact, the forecast for the AR market is projected to reach up to $75 billion in revenue by 2023.

This is largely in part due to the fact that many smartphone apps now use AR as their default engagement method. And, with more people than ever using their smartphones to shop, the opportunity to engage through AR is easier than ever.

To give you a better idea of just how regularly we engage with AR, think about the popular apps Snapchat and Waze. Both apps utilize AR in some way – Snapchat uses AR to create the app’s infamous filters, and Waze uses AR to offer pop-up coupons and other promos based on the user’s location.

Another popular type of AR is marker-based AR. This form of AR is when a mobile app lets users scan the “marker” or image for a rendered interaction. Marker-based AR can be especially useful to cannabis businesses and offers a relatively low price point and easy execution.

Here are just a few ways marker-based AR can revamp your cannabis business and take you to the next level.

Education

The canna-curious are becoming one of the largest audiences in relation to the sustained growth of the cannabis industry, and it’s more important than ever to provide valuable information to this demographic to encourage their purchasing decision. Considering the fact that 65% of the world is comprised of visual learners, showing a video will have a far greater impact compared to talking them through a product.

By utilizing marker-based AR, a budtender can quickly activate video content from packaging or marketing material to demonstrate how a product works and its most important features. This provides an easy and effective way to quickly educate customers and entice them to make a purchase. 

Engagement

Connecting with customers is more important than ever thanks to the fragmented distribution system in the cannabis industry. Capturing customer information and building relationships is crucial to a brand’s longevity.

AR can support two aspects of the customer journey: in-store and post purchase. Fifty-five percent of shoppers use online videos while they’re in the store making a purchase, and eight out of ten people are more likely to purchase after viewing a brand video.

An AR app that provides customers with support during and after their purchases not only encourages sales but also provides brands with the opportunity to engage with push-notifications and direct marketing, which ultimately encourages additional product purchases. With more people than ever using their smartphones to shop, the opportunity to engage through AR is easier than ever.

Experience

The experience a consumer has with your brand can make or break their brand loyalty. As the Chief Marketing Officer for Philter Labs, Inc., I’m constantly looking for authentic ways to connect with our customers.

We recently partnered with Daily High Club, a monthly subscription box that offers custom glass pieces and must-have smoking accessories inspired by cannabis influencers. For June, Daily High Club featured two fan-favorite influencers: MacDizzle420 and Koala Puffs.

Using marker-based AR, we activated a video montage featuring the influencers that could be viewed directly from their custom piece of glassware. Subscribers were able to engage with the influencers while enjoying the glassware which added a new element to the experience that was both engaging and immersive in a way that was never possible before.

At PHILTER, we’re committed to continue using AR to supplement our marketing strategies. As a proponent of the technology, I truly believe that as brands work to differentiate themselves in the space, leaving a lasting impression will be the catalyst for brands to thrive and grow in an increasingly competitive market while also directly impacting a customer’s lifetime value.

The Dawn of Delivery: How This Oregon Company Launched During a Pandemic

By Aaron G. Biros
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Back in late 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) legalized delivery for cannabis products. Since then, dispensaries could offer a delivery option for their customers to purchase cannabis products without leaving the comfort of their home. Up until quite recently, that market was dominated by a handful of dispensaries who also conduct business at their physical location, offering delivery as an option while conducting most sales in-person.

Enter Pot Mates. Founded in 2018 by Hammond Potter, the company embarked on the long regulatory road towards licensing and beginning operations. On April 20, 2020, Pot Mates opened for business, starting their engines to take on the fledgling cannabis delivery market in Portland.

Pot Mates is a tech startup through and through. The founders are former Apple employees. Hakon Khajavei, the chief marketing officer at Pot Mates, founded Blackline Collective, a business and marketing consultancy, which is where he joined the Pot Mates team. The other co-founder of Pot Mates and chief technology officer, Jason Hinson, joined after serving in the US Navy as an electronics technician maintaining satellite communications networks.

With the sheer amount of regulations for cannabis businesses, coupled with the new delivery-based business model, Pot Mates had to focus on technology and automation from the get-go.

Not Just an Online Dispensary

For the cannabis companies already offering delivery in the Portland metro area, their websites seem to mimic the in-person dispensary experience. They offer dozens of products for each category, like concentrates, edibles and flower, making a customer pour through options, all at different price points, which can get confusing for the average consumer.

The Pot Mates logo

Pot Mates does things a little differently. “Our start up process was thinking through how do we make this the best experience possible, how do we get rid of the unnecessary junk and how do we do things that only an online dispensary can do,” says Khajavei. They have flat pricing across the board. In each category, almost every product is priced the same, moving away from the common tiered-pricing model. This, Khajavei says, removes the decision barriers customers often face. Instead of choosing the right price point, they can choose the delivery mechanism and effect they desire uninhibited by a difference in cost.

It all comes back to focusing on the simplest way for someone to buy cannabis. “Shopping online is just very different,” says Khajavei. “Our process focuses on the customer journey and limits the number of products we offer. We have a mood system, where we tag our products from reviews to typify moods that you experience with different products.” All of that requires a lot of back-end technology built into their website.

The Long Regulatory Road

Technology has been a strong suit for Pot Mates since they opened their doors, and well before that too. Making the decision to be an online-only delivery cannabis company pushed them to pursue a very unique business model, but regulations dictate a lot of the same requirements that one might see in dispensaries.

Hakon Khajavei, Chief Marketing Officer

The same rules apply to them when Pot Mates submitted their license application. You need to have a signed lease, extreme security measures, detailed business plans, integrated seed-to-sale traceability software (Metrc in Oregon) and much more. “During the months leading up to getting our license, we were able to iron out a lot of the regulatory details ahead of time,” says Khajavei. A lot of that was about security and tracking their products, which is why technology plays such a huge role in their ongoing regulatory compliance efforts. “We built in a lot of automation in our system for regulatory compliance,” says Khajavei. “Because of our technology, we are a lot faster.”

In the end, their licensing process through the state of Oregon as well as the city of Portland took about nine months. Once they had the license, they could finally get down to business and begin the process of building their website, their POS system, their inventory and reaching out to partners, producers, distributors and growers.

For any cannabis company, there are a number of regulations unique to their business. “We need to report every product movement in house through Metrc,” says Khajavei. “Every time something is repackaged it needs to be reported. We focus so much on our technology and automation because these regulations force us to do so.” But delivery companies are required to report even more. Pot Mates needs to report every single movement a product makes until it reaches the customer. Before the delivery can leave the shop, it is reported to Metrc with an intended route, using turn-by-turn directions. It complicates things when you make two or more deliveries in one trip. Reporting a daisy chain of deliveries a vehicle makes with turn-by-turn directions to regulatory authorities can get very tedious.

As far as regulations go for delivery parameters, they can legally deliver anywhere inside Portland city limits. “It is our job to figure that out, not the customer’s job; so we don’t have any distance limits, as long as it is residential,” Khajavei says. “We programmed customized technology that allows us to handle really small orders.” Without a minimum order policy or a distance limit, Pot Mates can reach a much bigger group of consumers.

Launching in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Chief Technology Officer, Jason Hinson

Luckily, the Pot Mates team received their license just in time. About two weeks after they submitted their application, Oregon put a moratorium on any new dispensaries.

They went forward with their launch on April 20 this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic impacting just about every business in the world, including their marketing efforts tremendously. With cannabis deemed essential by the state, they could operate business as usual, just with some extra precautions. What’s good for PotMates is that they don’t need to worry about keeping social distancing policies for customers or curbside pickup, given the lack of storefront.

They still need to keep their team safe though. The Pot Mates team began 3D printing washable and reusable face masks, getting more gloves for delivery drivers, cleaning their warehouse thoroughly, cleaning vehicles and making sure employees maintained distancing. Pot Mates is even 3D printing enough masks and donating them to local organizations that need access to masks. “As a cannabis company, we always have to handle things with gloves here and take necessary safety precautions anyway, so our response is more about how we can help than what we need to change.”

Advertising Cannabis in a Pandemic is No Easy Task

“The marketing aspect is where covid-19 really hurt us,” says Khajavei. “There are so many regulations for cannabis companies advertising already. Unlike other products, we can’t just put up advertisements anywhere. We have to follow very specific rules.” So, in addition to the normal marketing woes in the cannabis industry, the team then had to deal with a pandemic.

Pot Mates had to scrap their entire marketing strategy for 2020 and redo it. “We wanted to begin with a lot of face-to-face marketing at events, but that didn’t quite work out so well.” Without any concerts, industry events or large gatherings of any kind, Pot Mates had to pivot to digital marketing entirely. They started building their SEO, growing their following on social media, producing content in the form of blogs and education around cannabis and the local laws.

On an Upward Trajectory

Obviously, the short-term problem for a new cannabis company is reaching people, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. “We have a good trajectory though, we know we are growing our business, but we still have a ways to go,” says Khajavei. It doesn’t help that social media companies have nonsensical policies regarding cannabis. Their Facebook page was recently removed too.

Founder & CEO of Pot Mates, Hammond Potter

But the bigger issue here is kind of surprising when you first hear it: “It’s not even a matter of customer preference, a lot of people just have no idea that delivery is even legal.”

It’s pretty evident that cannabis delivery has not really gone mainstream yet. “We’ve told people about our business in the past and a common answer we get is, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know we could get cannabis delivered.’” It’s never crossed their mind that they can get cannabis delivered to their home. It’s an awareness problem. It’s a marketing problem. But it’s a good problem to have and the solution lies in outreach. Through educational content they post on social media and in their blog, Khajavei wants to spread the word: “Hey, this is a real thing, you can get cannabis delivered.”

As the market develops and as consumers begin to key in on cannabis delivery, there’s nowhere to go but up. Especially in the age of Amazon and COVID-19 where consumers can get literally anything they can dream of delivered to their front door.

Moving forward, Pot Mates has plans to expand as soon as they can. Right now, they’re limited to Portland city limits, but there’s a massive population just outside of Portland in towns like Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin. “We are so close to these population centers but can’t deliver to them now because of the rules. We want to work with OLCC about this and hopefully change the rules to allow us to deliver outside of the city limits,” says Khajavei. In the long term, they plan to expand out of state, with Washington on their north border being first on the docket.

To the average person, one would think launching a delivery cannabis business in the midst of a global pandemic would be a walk in the park, but Pot Mates proved it’s no easy task. As the market develops and the health crisis continues, it seems the Oregon market will react positively to the nascent delivery market, but first they need to know it is even an option.

How to Grow a New Cannabis Business Amid a Pandemic

By Hannah Deacon
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The COVID-19 crisis is plunging the global economy into recession, changing consumer behavior and the world of business. Cannabis businesses are no stranger to operating in a challenging landscape. The constantly evolving legal status, regulatory hurdles and social stigma has forced founders in this space to be nimble and more financially wise with their capital.

While the market has experienced a seismic shift that has already attracted investors to inject capital into the cannabis industry and seen neighboring industries, including tobacco, alcohol and pharma, come into the fray, COVID-19 will change key industry structures and operations. To succeed and cultivate value, cannabis companies must adapt to the new realities of the marketplace to be well positioned for continued growth after the pandemic subsides.

With social distancing guidelines suddenly forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to move their businesses and customer experiences online and disruptions to the supply chain due to international travel and business directions, some businesses will struggle to stay afloat.

As consumer behaviour and online shopping patterns adjust to a new way of living (affecting B2B sales, online ordering, deliveries and manufacturing), leadership and strategic thinking will be paramount.

By understanding where the challenges and opportunities lie, cannabis businesses can thrive. Here are some focus areas and tactics to consider:

  1. Targeted consumer segmentation through social media

When starting a cannabis business, it is key to understand who your core consumers are and what they want from their products. This has become even more acute because of the pandemic with consumers flocking to all sorts of health-focused products including CBD.

With everybody spending more time online, social media use is on the rise. Executing a social media plan to include influencer outreach can increase brand visibility, build a solid consumer base and create brand advocates.

Instagram is essential to a cannabis business building an online presence but it’s important that it doesn’t become a “hard sell, please buy me” channel. Plan and make Insta-worthy content that educates and entertains followers to increase engagement, click-through rates and leads. Brands may want to pair with an influencer on either a gifting or paid-for basis which will mean the brand appears in a potential customer’s feed as they interact with their favourite accounts.

PlugPlay, a California cannabis brand, stays relevant with creative posts like these.

The art is finding key influencers whose audience is one that you would like to interact with. This type of positioning will allow cannabis businesses to reach a new audience or group of people.

  1. Marketing and PR

In times like these, many companies choose to pull back on communication activities and expenditures for fear of spending too much for what they perceive as little return, however, marketing and PR, when executed well, can be the lifeline of any business.

With so much noise in the market about the “next best thing in cannabis”, effective marketing and PR can distinguish brands that are credible and offer a strong value proposition to those that are all smoke and mirrors.

The current needs of businesses and consumers are much different than they were just a few short months ago, so it’s important to understand these needs and spending habits while combatting negative perceptions of cannabis.

As cannabis companies are not able to advertise like mainstream companies, a strong public relations and marketing strategy will enable firms to communicate their identity, build trust, shift perceptions through media coverage, enhance reputations and reach customers, partners and investors.

  1. Cost cutting

Businesses in every sector are cutting costs to keep their businesses afloat. This needs to be done strategically and requires senior leadership teams to explore cost reduction strategies and streamline non-essential costs.

This may mean further consolidation of cannabis companies and supply chains to manage cash flow and maximise resources. Companies may even look to create strategic partnerships with complementary businesses in the industry or push some firms towards mergers and acquisitions.

Business models will evolve as cannabis companies identify inefficiencies and reconfigure their operations and messaging. This could range from assessing their R&D capabilities, agricultural assets, manufacturing chains or route to market.

  1. E-commerce capabilities
Pivoting to e-commerce is nothing new, but getting creative with product offerings and marketing initiatives will set you apart from the typical CBD retailer

The postponement of countless CBD Expos, trade shows and cannabis conferences are creating new demand and opportunities for businesses. To reach prospective wholesale clients, investors and connect to their customer base, firms are entering the digital marketplace. Digital events, Zoom investor pitch panels and email marketing and sampling is on the rise and expected to grow over the coming months.

CBD brands should work in parallel with their retail partners to influence product samples in digital offers and create a touchless transaction. Buying products online is going to become a permanently entrenched habit, even when restrictions are fully lifted so it’s worth looking at how technology can support and enhance sales while offering a smooth customer experience.

  1. Industry Relationships

Everyone in the cannabis industry will be affected by COVID-19 so maintaining positive relationships is vital in these tough times. Calling investors or partners to tell them what is going on with your business or checking in on others in your ecosystem means information can be shared to iron out any issues and help generate ideas to future proof the business. “A problem shared is a problem halved!”

COVID-19 is creating incredible business challenges. As we navigate the new normal, it’s important to adapt and grow. As more products come to market and brands/services develop distinguished offerings, expectations will change so cannabis businesses need to be ready for greener pastures.