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From Seed to Storefront: Why Cannabis Retailers Should Know How to Cultivate

By Itali Heide
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There isn’t one simple formula that holds the secrets of success in cannabis branding, but there are some things that might give you an advantage. The possibilities of cannabis are endless and understanding the cultivation process can be incredibly advantageous to brands who want to become involved every step of the way and build a trustworthy brand from seed to storefront.

Some of the most successful brands in the cannabis industry have built their name on quality and the best way to ensure that is to know exactly where your bud is coming from.

The Advantages of Understanding the Cultivation Side of Cannabis

Understanding the cultivation side of the cannabis industry can be quite valuable for many reasons. If you’re in commercial cannabis, getting up close and personal with the cultivation process can lend cultivation expertise to your brand name and help connect you with the process from the very start so you can offer your customers a guarantee of high-quality products with a hands-on approach. Being close to the process allows you to develop the highest standards when it comes to better yields, stronger plants and more potent cannabis. In short, it gives you complete control of your brand and its reputation.

Radiant Huoang, CEO of Delta Munchies, shares how a deeper knowledge of the brand’s cultivation has affected and given Delta Munchies an advantage. “The years of experience on the cultivating side of cannabis, gave me an appreciation for the craftsmanship and the hard work that is essential to creating a great product,” says Huong. “In a crowded market, it’s impossible to build a lasting brand without a product of undoubtable quality, and that starts with the flower we use, thanks to our cultivators.”

Essentially, when you have control of the cultivation side of the business, you are able to craft strains, edibles and other products that are unique to your company. It gives you control over the quality of your product and gives you a consistent edge over the competition.

Being close to the process allows you to develop the highest standards when it comes to better yields, stronger plants and more potent cannabis.

“This level of craftsmanship bled over [to the retail side] when creating our brand and what we choose to offer to our consumers,” says Hoang. “Always trying to craft and improve the best products possible that deliver a similar effect to your traditional cannabis is our goal.”

Anyone buying a cannabis product wants to know that what they’re consuming is cultivated with passion and a careful eye for the details. As a retailer, cultivating their own crop allows Delta Munchies to ensure the integrity of the final product and deliver a true plant-centered experience to their clients.

Beyond retail, growing is an excellent place to start in the cannabis industry. It sets up a solid foundation for you to understand cannabis and allows you to bring the highest quality products to the market. Especially since a rise in the use of cannabis calls for more growers and cultivation-centered businesses.

Understanding the Headwinds of Cannabis Cultivation and Cannabis Retail

Not everything in the cannabis cultivation and retail world is perfect, as with any other industry. Making it can be challenging, especially as local regulations fluctuate while nationwide legalization remains in limbo.

The first challenge is legalization: as of now, hemp is federally legal and hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3% delta 9 THC are technically legal in all states. It can be difficult to keep up with new laws and constant changes. Right now, cannabis businesses can still struggle with access to banking services and insurance.

It’s important to follow general federal regulations for your product, such as the nutrition facts section

Growers are also faced with the bureaucracy and costs of regulations, testing conditions, label requirements and other additional investments that come with constant change. Still, change is a part of any budding industry, so it’s important to keep this in mind and remain adaptable.

Some states place a limit on the number of licenses they’re allowed to issue to cannabis businesses and growers, which can make it challenging for new players to join and results in the market being dominated by the top dogs, but this isn’t unlike any other industry. Making sure you can commit to a business of this type is another thing to consider deeply before endeavoring into the world of cannabis.

What About the Future of Cannabis Cultivation and Retail?

The future of cultivation and retail is bright, although not without speedbumps along the way. The good: we can expect more consistency and structure after regulation becomes the norm, advances in technology are being used to make exciting, creative products and growing interest and preferences make for a promising future of growth.

On the other hand, regulation could go a bit too far. When asked about the future of the industry Huong believes brands need to be given the freedom to innovate. “We think that cannabis cultivation will always be a beautiful art, but with so much saturation and over-regulation it makes it extremely difficult to operate,” says Hoang. This is an important factor to consider, although regulation can have its advantages, states need to consider whether their regulations are truly aimed at improving quality and safety, or just acting as barriers to entry.

Technology will surely play a role in the future of cannabis cultivation and retail. Advances in the agricultural sector grow exponentially, with systems that are developed and optimized to grow hemp and cannabis with a variety of top-of-the-line technologies that help ensure high-quality raw materials.

The future of the cannabis industry will be shaped by many things, but nothing can influence the market as much as its consumers. Customer preference, brand trustworthiness and effectiveness, and legality will ultimately lead the way for cannabis trends.

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Getting involved with the cultivation process can be important for overall quality.

One way to do this is to be in complete control of your product, from seed to storefront. Being able to cultivate the product you sell allows you to pivot more easily when the market demands it. Rather than seeking out new suppliers, a nimble cannabis brand will be set up to shift its cultivation operations as consumers switch from high THC strains to CBD or any other novel cannabinoid to hit the market.

Final Thoughts

Getting involved with the cultivation process can be important for overall quality. If you own a cannabis brand, having a close relationship with your grower or growing your own cannabis can lead to a product that’s higher in quality, as you can achieve a deeper understanding of the unique effects that you want your product to have and the quality necessary to achieve them. At the end of the day, what customers care for most is the product inside the packaging that you’ve designed to catch their eye. This is what will keep them coming back. It’s that quality that will imprint the packaging in their minds on their next trip to the dispensary.

Knowing more about cannabis from the ground up can be beneficial when it comes to innovation opportunities. Being able to apply your own knowledge or that of your trusted growers to a new product can help you grow your brand in a way that’s uniquely yours.

Hoang says harmony between the grower and the brand is important: “Seeing something you grew yourself come to life bleeds into the brand.” Becoming involved in the cultivation process of cannabis allows you to gain perspective that can be beneficial for your brand.

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3 Benefits of Conducting Genetic Tests on Your Plants

By Angel Fernandez
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Many growers may wonder why it’s important to get their plants genetically tested, but the truth is that genetic testing can make growing a lot easier. Genetic analysis in plants can give a wide range of results that can help scientists solve everyday problems in plant cultivation, such as detecting diseases and identifying important traits in plant species.

Currently, three of the most important benefits that genetic testing can give growers are the ability to detect diseases, identify the gender of their plants and control the quality of their crops.

Pathogen detection

Pathogen infections can be difficult to detect and by the time symptoms are obvious, it may be too late and the rest of the crop is already contaminated. This is why DNA tests are a valuable tool for the early detection of diseases in plants. Even though plants reproduce through cloning, it’s crucial to make sure the mother plant is healthy before proceeding, as 100% of the genetic material will be transferred to the clone, including any diseases the mother plant may have, such as a virus.

There are a few ways to detect pathogens in plants, including detection and symptomatology, serological techniques for viruses and microbiological techniques for fungi and bacteria. However, another effective method is detection tests using genetic material, also known as molecular methods. These tests involve screening the plant’s genetic material for any alterations, such as the presence of the pathogen’s genetic material. These tests are particularly useful as they provide accurate results when at least part of the pathogen’s genome sequence is known. This is important as many of these genomes have yet to be fully studied and there may be new unknown variants.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus symptoms can include tip curling, blotching of leaf mosaic patterning, and stunting

The reliability and effectiveness of genetic and molecular tests are due to the use of DNA as the starting material for pathogen detection. DNA is a stable molecule that can withstand adverse conditions, such as high temperatures or low humidity. Additionally, this technique can still be effective even when the samples used are very damaged or necrotic. Due to these qualities, genetic testing is considered one of the best methods for pathogen detection.

In summary, genetic testing is the most effective technique for pathogen detection as it is highly specific, requires a small sample and provides accurate results in a short period of time.

Plant gender detection

In the case of the cannabis plant, it is naturally diploid and dioecious, meaning that it has separate male and female reproductive structures, and each one contributes a chromosome during reproduction. However, there may be mutations that result in hermaphrodite plants, which have both male and female reproductive structures.

Growers who propagate their crops through seeds must wait several weeks to identify the sex of their plants, as their dioecious nature makes it difficult to recognize the plant’s sex in the early stages of growth. This can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. However, thanks to genetic testing, it is possible to determine the sex of a plant long before it reaches the flowering stage.

The sex organs on a Cannabis plant identified.

The determination of the gender of a dioecious plant is influenced by a sex chromosome system. Male plants have an XY sex chromosome system, known as heterogametic, while female plants have the XX sex chromosome system, known as homogametic.

To identify the sex of a plant through genetic studies, DNA or RNA-based molecular markers are used with a tissue sample. These markers typically look for the male trait “Y” in the plant, as the trait “X” is present in both male and female plants. In this way, the presence of the Y chromosome can be used to confirm the plant is male, and its absence can be used to confirm that it is female.

Crop quality control

The same species can often present one or more varieties, and although they may have physical features that distinguish them, it is not always possible to identify them with the naked eye. Beyond physical characteristics, genetic traits can have considerable differences.

Molecular identification is a very accurate tool for identifying varieties

Different varieties of cannabis have been widely cultivated and crossbred, making it possible for plants to have very similar physical traits, making it difficult to identify the variety being cultivated. This is why molecular identification is a very accurate tool for identifying varieties in cases where there is uncertainty about their identity.

Additionally, some plants can produce lower or higher amounts of cannabinoids due to their genetic nature or small mutations that occurred during growth. This is how there are plants with the advantage of having genes that code for high production of THC or CBD. These outstanding traits can be detected through the selection of characteristics using analysis of molecular markers that indicate the presence of these genes in the plant, or that detect the genes responsible for synthesizing these substances and determine their respective quality.

These procedures are performed using a tissue sample from the plant and using DNA as a starting material for testing, which provides information on the genetic traits of interest and validates their function.

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Attracting Investment: How Cannabis Companies Can Best Position Themselves

By Joe Madigan
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Remember those heady days of the Green Rush a decade ago, when markets were small and it seemed everyone had a chance? Now it’s more of a mad rush to get some green in the form of investment capital.

The majority of states in the country now have some type of legal cannabis market. Businesses in those states operate in spite of regulations that are restrictive, confusing and make it very difficult to make a profit. Meanwhile, heavy tax burdens, differences in enforcement techniques and varying degrees of oversight are other factors that influence bottom lines in the cannabis industry.

Saturated markets are giving businesses trouble when it comes to their bottom line

Inflation also continues to be a prominent force across world markets. Sales of cannabis products have fallen as consumers adjust to inflation and post-COVID supply chain issues that are causing higher prices on necessary staples like food and gas. An oversaturation of cannabis flower is becoming a perennial problem in some states and another factor causing industry distress.

When cash flow slows to a trickle, companies of all sizes seek out investment funding to keep their momentum. But catching the eye of an investor group requires more than just sticking your hand out.

What Attracts Potential Investors?

A company is best positioned to attract those interested in cannabis investment opportunities when it appears serious about its growth plans. That means being well positioned with a solid upper-management foundation and so much the better if there’s an advisory board in place too. A company built with a diverse group of talent—ideally from consumer packaged goods companies—presents an attractive opportunity for investors.

Talent from the CPG space can help attract investors

Top-quality and industry savvy finance employees who maintain sound financial books and establish a solid banking arrangement are also important. If the company’s financial scenario is robust enough to provide confidence in case of an audit and the books are in good shape with auditable METRC logs investors will be far more inclined to put money on the line.

A cannabis company with full inclusion (or seed to sale) is often a smart choice for investment. The vertical integration of cultivation, processing/manufacturing and retail allows them to sell their own products while also stocking other brands’ products on the floors of their dispensaries. If their products are respected and the brand is held in high regard, even better. Similarly, a cultivation enterprise that can grow crops for multiple brands can also be very attractive. The ability to pivot and adjust production to reflect the market and consumer demands indicates a strong business foundation.

Despite the current headwinds and saturated markets, other chances for growth exist. When a local municipality finally decides to “opt-in” to adult-use cannabis sales, there’s opportunity for both established brands and startups. It’s a matter of being ready for those opportunities and having a plan to leap in whenever new licenses become available.

What Businesses Will Struggle to Attract Investment?

Culture is key here. Poor employee relations and weak cohesion across departments are indicative of deeper problems. Do people actually want to work for the business? Do they feel supported by human resources? A company with underdeveloped or non-existent workers’ compensation policies and a management team that is not respected by its employees is not going to look good in the eyes of potential investors.

Non-diversified cannabis businesses are also at a major disadvantage when seeking investors. Cultivators of one type of product or service are locked into a single operation geared to do one thing. Any changes to market whims or problems with the supply chain can wreak havoc on a business based around a single product.

Stick to Business Basics

The cannabis industry is unique, but the basics of running a business well enough for success still apply. Strictly adhering to the traditional methods that any successful organization follows is extra important in cannabis. Businesses that are active in their community and make a real effort to be involved will be held in higher regard by investors. They want to see cannabis businesses that are not just setting up shop to make a quick buck, but are dedicated to bettering their community. That indicates a relationship with customers that involves mutual respect and promotes business longevity and financial stability.

A Guide to Dispensary Insurance

By Itali Heide
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As a business owner, insurance is always a must. If you are interested in entering into the cannabis industry or you already have, it’s important to know what to expect when it comes to insuring your cannabis-related business.

That’s why we’ll be exploring what dispensary insurance is, different options for business owners and general advice regarding dispensary and other CRB insurance.

What is Dispensary Insurance?

Insurance for cannabis-related businesses refers to policies that protect the business against risk. This can include dispensaries, cultivation centers and testing labs – all of which require different levels of coverage and liability.

We spoke to Alexander Marenco, an insurance broker from Marenco Insurance, who explained what dispensary owners should know before seeking out insurance. Marenco says it’s similar to shopping for insurance for other businesess. “You need to have full details of the business and location to receive a quote.” He adds. “The applications will ask questions such as location, renovations, or improvements to the location, ownership information, payroll details, and sales or projected annual sales.”

How is Dispensary Insurance Different From Other Forms of Business Insurance?

Because non-hemp-derived cannabis is still considered a schedule one controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Act, cannabis insurance can be more expensive than regular insurance for non-cannabis businesses. Because of the risks associated with being considered a potential retailer of a controlled substance, liability policies and other options can cost a pretty penny.

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The cash-only nature of the business makes insuring dispensaries more costly

Additionally, when asking Marenco about how dispensary insurance differs from other brick-and-mortar retail insurance, he says: “With more states increasingly legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, insurance carriers have started to open risk acceptability. However, since marijuana is still federally illegal, businesses will find it difficult to find multiple quotes from different carriers.”

Types of Insurance Available for Cannabis-Related Businesses

What kind of insurance is available for cannabis-related businesses? Let’s find out.

First off, it’s important to keep in mind that CRBs are at risk for a lot of things: workplace accidents, damage to property, theft, general liability and product liability. Plus, the fact that most dispensaries work on a cash-only business model until the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is approved by Congress, CRBs tend to handle big amounts of cash, further putting them at risk of theft and liability. CRB insurance can be as low as $350 and as high as $7,500 depending on the type of business and policy.

Here are some of the most common types of insurance for CRBs and what they cover:

  • General liability: third-party claims for bodily injury, property damage and reputational harm.
  • Commercial property: damage to a business-owned property.
  • Professional liability: third-party accusations of negligence and mistakes.
  • Workers’ compensation: employees’ medical bills and lost wages due to injury or illness.
  • Inland marine: damage or theft of business-owned property in transit.
  • Crop: costs from damage to seeds and plants.

With so many things to watch out for, insurance for cannabis businesses and dispensaries isn’t cheap. Here, Marenco says what CRB owners can do to keep their premiums as low as possible:

A smart safe like this one can help secure cash handling

“Premiums are primarily based on sales (actual or projected). After the term expires, the insurance carrier will conduct an audit for the prior term to confirm the information from the application. The audited discrepancy will adjust the next term’s sales figures. Dispensary insurance will typically be placed through an excess & surplus market which do not provide traditional discounts.”

So, in essence, the best thing a dispensary owner can do is be honest about their projections.

Navigating premiums can be a detailed process, as we learned when speaking to Jesse Giffith, an owner of Smokeless CBD and Vape: a chain of retail shops across the twin cities Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota:

“Our shops carry insurance that has been offered with a modified rate for vape retailers. This route was not as straightforward as some traditional retail insurance options, but may offer benefits, and a better fit for coverage than other dispensary insurance options.”

A Growing Number of Dispensaries Across America

With the growing legalization and normalization of adult use, medical and hemp-derived cannabis across the nation, it should come as no surprise that the number of dispensaries across the country grows exponentially.

In 2021, the cannabis market in the U.S. was valued at 10.8 billion dollars, with an expected annual growth of 14.9% annually. This is a sign of what’s to come. Cannabis may be an industry that’s been considered taboo for decades, but the growth shows the growing acceptance of the plant for medical and adult use reasons.

Insurance providers remain cautious as cannabis laws are still in flux.

With that growth comes a greater need for insurance providers, opening the door to the possibility that these two industries will grow in tandem. The future may bring a greater variety of options for coverage at cheaper prices. But for the time being, insurance providers remain cautious as the fate of federal and local cannabis laws are still in flux.

Are There Limited Carriers that Issue Dispensary Insurance?

Every CRB needs insurance, just like any other type of establishment, business or company. The issue within the cannabis industry is that there is still a limited insurance market, with insurers willing to provide insurance constantly exiting and entering the market. Plus, the overall capacity and variety of policies that cover different types of risks are limited. Lastly, it can be difficult to use CRB insurance when you read between the lines of the policy. Because cannabis with THC is still federally illegal (excluding hemp-derived cannabis products containing less than 0.3% THC), insurers can negate coverage when a loss or claim occurs.

Because of the complications that may arise even if you do have insurance, Marenco offers some advice for dispensary owners that are searching for the right insurance option for them: “Before shopping for insurance make sure you have all your licenses and are in full compliance with all regulations. Insurance carrier’s requirements from the state. Additionally, consider different coverage options.” He continues. “At a minimum, a business needs general liability insurance. Insurance companies can also consider covering business property including inventory, betterments, and improvements to a rented space, among others. When shopping for insurance make sure your agent reviews different coverage options.”

Cannabis in 2023: Here to Stay, but Major Challenges Remain

By Joshua Weiss, Osiris Morel
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2022 brought more change and visibility to the cannabis industry than nearly any year before. Two of five legalization ballot measures passed, bringing the total number of states with legal medical or medical and recreational laws to 39. President Biden issued an executive order pardoning nonviolent offenders and directing a review into rescheduling cannabis. The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was enacted. Cannabis arose prominently in legislatures across the country, with over 50 federal bills and hundreds of state-level measures introduced.

We’ve yet to see the full impact from Biden’s October 6 announcement

But as 2022 came to a close, only a handful of actions are being carried into the new year, and the industry faces more hardship and turmoil than it has since the inception of legalization. Legal cannabis retailers and cultivators in markets across the country continue to struggle with onerous regulations and competition from the illicit market, and oversupply in these markets is driving down prices as West Coast growers and manufacturers anxiously await interstate commerce.

Looking ahead to the coming year, industry watchers can anticipate certain issues and legislation: further investigation into cannabis’ classification on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) from federal agencies, federal cannabis pardons coming to fruition, a follow-up from the Department of Justice’s technical report, and the reintroduction of high-profile federal legislation, like the Cannabis Opportunity Act (CAOA), the States Reform Act, Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act and the Secure and Fair (SAFE) Banking Act.

Below, we recap some of the big moments of 2022 and what to expect in 2023.

A Presidential Pardon for Simple Possession

On Oct. 6, President Biden made a historic announcement to “grant a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act” and “all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.” His executive order also encouraged governors to follow suit for cases regarding state offenses and requested that the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general “expeditiously” review how cannabis is scheduled under federal law.

Biden signing his executive order back in October of 2022

The president’s strategic plan attempts to at least partly address some of the adverse impacts of the United States’ war on drugs on certain populations like low-income and Black and Latinx Americans. While an admirable and important effort, certain portions of his executive order will take much longer than others to yield tangible impact. A federal pardoning can take anywhere between two to five years, and the laws and duration of state-level pardoning vary—depending on the state and its governing practices. Additionally, since governors are not required to pardon individuals following the president’s executive order, some convicted persons may never see or be able to seek justice. And the most uncertain timeline relates to the review of cannabis’ classification on the CSA. Rescheduling or descheduling a substance under the CSA can be tedious and grueling, and, as seen with other substances, the process can range from four to ten years. However, the exercise is ongoing, and although results may not be shared in time for the 118th Congress, it is to be expected that the issue will be discussed at length in 2023 and beyond.

Descheduling, Decriminalizing & Banking Legislative Efforts  

1. CAOA.

When it comes to legislation, there is no question that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) will reintroduce the CAOA in 2023. The comprehensive legislation aims to decriminalize cannabis by removing the drug from the CSA and tackles issues related to research, public safety, restorative justice and equity, taxation and regulation, public health and industry practices.

2. States Reform Act.

Sen. Schumer unveiling the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

Another piece of legislation we anticipate seeing in the 118th Congress is Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-SC) States Reform Act. Coming from a state without any cannabis laws, the freshman congresswoman introduced a measure that would federally decriminalize cannabis by fully deferring to state powers over prohibition and commercial regulation and regulate cannabis products like alcohol. In 2022, the bill received positive feedback from the industry and dominated the discussions during the Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms congressional hearing. With its bold cannabis sponsor, who will now serve as the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties chair, the States Reform Act will undoubtedly take center stage in 2023.

3. MORE Act.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the MORE Act will also be reintroduced in 2023; however, it remains to be seen how much attention the bill will receive. The MORE Act aims to decriminalize cannabis by removing the drug from the CSA and eliminating criminal penalties for anyone who manufactures, distributes or possesses cannabis. In the 117th Congress, Rep. Nadler served as the chair to the House Judiciary Committee and was able to advance his measure through the chamber with ease. But since the House majority has flipped, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is likely to serve as the chair, getting the MORE Act to the floor for a vote may be challenging—especially given Rep. Jordan’s opposition to the cannabis sector.

The House passing the MORE Act back in 2020

4. HOPE Act.

The HOPE Act often flies under the radar, but this Republican-sponsored bill made headlines during the 117th Congress. Sponsored by Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (CCC), Rep. Dave Joyce (OH), the bipartisan legislation aims to help states with expunging cannabis offenses by reducing the financial and administrative burden of such efforts through federal grants. Although it was not considered in the House, the language of the bill was heavily debated by the Senate, particularly toward the end of the year when the chamber was negotiating the final text for end-of-year must-pass packages, like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Omnibus and the Continuing Resolution (CR). Alongside the SAFE Banking Act, the HOPE Act was one of the only cannabis bills that had a realistic chance of advancing as part of a larger legislative vehicle, so there is no question that the congressman will reintroduce the measure in the upcoming congressional session.

5. SAFE Banking Act.

And last, but certainly not least, is the most discussed cannabis bill this year: the SAFE Banking Act. The legislation aims to create a safe harbor for financial institutions to provide traditional banking services to cannabis businesses in states that have legalized the drug. It also allows cannabis businesses to access lines of credit, loans and wealth management. It has now passed in the House seven times, with bipartisan support. And although the SAFE Banking Act was debated by the House several times throughout the year, the Senate did not tackle the bill until November. By the time discussions for the bill’s language had taken off, Sen. Booker remained firm that he would only support a cannabis bill if it included criminal justice and social equity reform language. In an attempt to satisfy the senator’s demands, Majority Leader Schumer considered marrying the SAFE Banking Act and the HOPE Act as part of a larger package.

However, and much to the cannabis industry’s detriment, not only was the timeline for those bills a little too late, but Democrats were, unfortunately, unable to fix the money laundering and cash legacy concerns of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and other Republicans.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Photo: Nick Fisher, Flickr

After attempting to attach the SAFE Banking Act to multiple vehicles, retiring Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the legislation, and Sen. Schumer were unsuccessful in getting the bill over the finish line. In a final Hail Mary, Sen. Schumer attempted to include the language to the Omnibus, but compounded with the technical assistance report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and ongoing media flurry, he and the Democratic party yet again came up empty-handed.

The question now is: who will carry the SAFE Banking Act and Rep. Perlmutter’s legacy in 2023? Many will look toward cannabis industry champions like Reps. Joyce, Mace, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-FL). However, it would be worth considering other members of the CCC and some of the incoming freshmen, particularly those from a state with legal cannabis laws. It is also entirely possible that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) finds his own sponsor to carry his companion bill in the House since he has already announced that he looks forward to working on the legislation in the upcoming year. Regardless, it is highly likely that the SAFE Banking Act will be reintroduced in 2023 and considered throughout the year.

6. Other Measures

Other measures that are likely to reappear in 2023 are the Capital Lending and Investment for Marijuana Businesses (CLIMB) Act, Veterans Equal Access Act, the GRAM Act, Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act, VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act and the Homegrown Act. Additionally, the passage of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act and the advancement of many of these federal bills have opened the gates for new legislation related to medical and recreational cannabis, research, veterans’ access, financial services, criminal justice reform and social equity, and public health and safety to emerge.

For states with legal cannabis laws, bills related to enhancing the state’s medical or medical and recreational programs, preventing industry oversaturation and price gouging, expanding licensing opportunities, criminal justice reform, youth and advertising protections and impaired driving are likely to be introduced. States where cannabis ballot measures failed will likely see those measures resurface.

The continued growth of legalization across the country is all but inevitable. In the nearer term, the industry will focus on how to remain viable in the face of high taxes and oversupply in 2023. New Congressional leadership could lead to bipartisan cannabis legalization if enough members are willing to rally behind their colleagues who are pushing for cannabis legislation. While the road is long before we will see the full impact from President Biden’s Oct. 6 announcement, the action proves those in power cannot ignore the ever-growing numbers of Americans across party lines and demographics who agree that cannabis use should be legal and regulated.

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 6

By Phil Gibson
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This is Part 6 and the final chapter in The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations series. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2, here to see Part 3, here for part 4 and here for Part 5.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Figure 1: Precision aeroponics at FarmaGrowers GMP Facility, South Africa

Every objective has to have a vision and a vector of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. “Winging it” is okay for an innovative artistic endeavor where creativity is spontaneous and one-of-a-kind art is produced. Unfortunately, that is not how one creates a top-quality cultivation operation.

Customers expect guarantees of consistency; quality assurance means a purchase is safe to consume. Medicinal products around the world require Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification. These are really just SOPs that document repeatable procedures to guarantee that the most recent batch offers the same results as the first certified effort. This brief covers the importance of documented operating procedures for a successful grow business with high quality customer results.

Figure 2: The objective – trichome covered flowers, DanCann, Denmark

Almost nobody gets excited about discussing quality, but experienced manufacturers know that quality control reduces waste and improves operations. Everyone learns that they have to implement feedback, improvement and quality control procedures to guarantee profitability and longevity in any business.

So, what is an SOP? A standard operating procedure defines ‘a task’ to be performed ‘at a location by a person or a role on a specific schedule.’ These definitions will include role definition, responsibilities, personnel training, equipment & service procedures, material handling, quality assurance controls, record keeping, approved procedures & instructions, documentation, references and appendices, all of which define your business and how it is to operate.

Now, you might ask, we are just growing plants, is all this really necessary? The short answer is, it depends. If you expect to export globally, do business in Europe and other markets, get licensed by Health Canada or some day be approved to ship to other States, then yes. If you are a regional craft cannabis supplier, maybe not, but there are many tasks that are required to grow where a better documented process can benefit your operation and the quality of the product delivered to your consumers.

Figure 3: Flower maintenance, DanCann, Denmark

We provide a bulleted list of recommendations in the full white paper but to touch on a few highlights that every operator should keep in mind, SOPs define the following structures for your business.

Personnel training is done for ‘this task, in this way’ & ‘this role is responsible’

Job descriptions reduce misunderstandings and increase worker ownership in your facility. Documenting your activities minimizes task overlap and conflicts that can lead to no one executing on something that may be important but not urgent. You want to eliminate employees thinking “I didn’t know it was my responsibility.”

Consultants or visitors must be aware of and follow the same requirements as your employees if you are to maintain the quality of your grow. Specific training should be given to anyone that handles or works around toxic chemicals. Safety sheets are not just paper; They keep people alive.

Equipment & Service Procedures

Be direct and specific in your task definitions, i.e., “Use 5ml of soap, clean until no plant matter or debris remains.”

Figure 4: Full GMP certified facility, FarmaGrowers, South Africa

Ideally, grow facilities, equipment and access will be designed with cleaning in mind from the start. This is not always possible but it is the mark of successful manufacturing or production companies.

Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning: think sterile, food safety and consumer consumption protections. SOPs should define cleaning methods and materials. This cleaning is done on schedule and aligned to your preventative maintenance and calibration requirements. Precise results require precise structure for any long-term operation.

We recommend that you integrate pictures and videos in the instructions for your procedures and training so that nothing is left to chance or misinterpreted.

Material Handling, Containers, Labels, Quality Assurance

Personnel contamination/cross-contamination are the death of any grow operation. Do everything you can to limit stray or wandering plant material, dust or debris from migrating from one grow room or area to another. Isolation is a good way to limit outbreaks to a specific room to minimize losses.

Figure 5: Documented SOPs must be followed & reviewed regularly

If something nasty happens to one of your rooms. Good labeling enforced by your quality assurance team is a simple way to increase the likelihood that employees will do a task as intended. This adds to your repeatability as people change jobs or roles are redefined.

Approved Procedures & Instructions

Quality assurance is all about repeatability and intended outcomes. Documenting procedures and intended use enables every new employee to follow the experience of the masters and duplicate their success. Testing, sampling and logging your results along the way enables you to know that you are on schedule and on process, so you can predict your results every time.

Part of your continuous improvement approach will be to deal with exceptions that are not covered by your procedures. Learning about those exceptions and capturing your experience with an improved method will lead to better outcomes the next time around.

Documentation, References, Appendices

Figure 6: Flower sealed & ready for export, DanCann, Denmark

You’ve done all of this hard work to capture your operation, so you need a complete library of your reference work and approach that employees can access. It does your operation no good if you capture your methods and no one ever looks at them again. Training cycles and reviewing your defined procedures is key to a consistent high-quality result.

Hero Award

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMP) and Good Agricultural & Collection Practices (GACP), are all terms that will become more familiar as cannabis production joins into one global market. Professional results will be required and national or international certifications will be the guarantees that any global customer can trust that a product meets the standards they expect.

We have many customers in North America and around the world. but DanCann Pharma is the most aggressive when it comes to meeting international standards and results. Producing flower that is so pure that no irradiation is required for export, the DanCann operation is fully certified for production throughout Europe and they are sold-out of capacity for the coming year. They are currently expanding their operations in Denmark and are a solid example to follow for a well-defined repeatable operation. FarmaGrowers in South Africa is a close second in this race with multiple export certifications of their own. The future looks bright for both of these global operations.

For the complete white paper on Top Quality Cultivation Facilities, download the document here.

Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference

The Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference is back! For eight years now, we have been hosting this complimentary collection of webinar presentations, designed to help attendees better understand some of the more technical aspects of starting and operating a laboratory. We will take a deep dive into cannabis testing, potency testing, regulations, sample preparation, management and much more.
Attendees registering for this complimentary series of webinars will get access to seven veterans of the cannabis lab testing industry, who are all available for Q&A after each presentation. In addition to getting the opportunity to chat with these subject matter experts on February 21, a recording of the presentations will be made available to all who register.
Practical and educational information from experts in the cannabis lab testing industry, all on the same day and all from the comfort of your lab, home or office. Want real inside knowledge on the cannabis testing industry? Stay tuned for more and make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to find out when registration opens!

2022 Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference: December Program

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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2022 Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference: December Program

Sponsored by Avivatech & Millipore Sigma

Click here to watch the recording

Agenda

Potency Inflation: The Problem, the Causes and the Solutions

  • Sarah Otis, Quality, R&D Manager, Anresco Laboratories
  • Erik Paulson, Ph.D., Lab Manager, InfiniteCAL

THC potency inflation by third-party testing labs has been an escalating feature of the cannabis industry since its legalization. In California, market forces and lack of regulation have allowed potency inflation to intensify in both its flagrancy and its pervasiveness, particularly within the last year. Two third-party testing labs in California, InfiniteCAL and Anresco, discuss how the industry got to this point, the different methods that labs use to inflate potency, and steps that can be taken to combat it.

TechTalk: Avivatech

  • Shawn Kruger, Senior Vice President of Product & Strategy, Avivatech

The Laboratory Information Landscape in Cannabis Testing

  • James Brennan, Sales & Marketing Specialist, LabWare
  • Eugene Olkhov, Data Scientist, LabWare

This presentation will guide attendees through the data continuum in modern cannabis testing laboratories supported by various software solutions. The presenters will describe the business and regulatory benefits of laboratory informatics and system deployment options, challenges, and financial considerations.

  • The current flow of cannabis testing data
  • An overview of informatics solutions for cannabis testing labs
  • Laboratory informatics and regulatory compliance
  • The impact of digital transformation on cannabis testing data

TechTalk: MilliporeSigma

Cannabis Testing Regulations & Implications for Environmental Monitoring

  • Sarah Powell Price, Regulatory Expert for Food Safety & Cannabis for North America, MilliporeSigma
  • Anne Connors Weeks, Senior Field Marketing Manager, MilliporeSigma

Cannabis testing requirements are continuously evolving, as are analyte detection capabilities.  This presentation provides a high level overview of the latest US cannabis testing regulatory landscape and how environmental monitoring is an essential component of safety and compliance planning.

Click here to watch the recording

Catching up with Jushi Creativity: A Q&A with Dre Neumann

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Jushi Holdings is a large multi-state operator with a massive national footprint and a presence in key markets, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio and California. 

About a year and a half ago, Aaron Green interviewed Andreas “Dre” Neumann, Chief Creative Director of Jushi Holdings to learn about his journey to the cannabis industry, Jushi’s market presence, brand development and key trends in the marketplace. 

This time around, we’re checking in with Neumann to hear about his progress since the last time we spoke. In this interview, we delve deep into the world of creative influence, brand building, technology, what Neumann is working on now and what he is excited about in the future. 

Cannabis Industry Journal: It’s been a while since our readers have heard from you. What’s new at Jushi? What Are you currently working on? 

Dre Neumann: When I joined Jushi, we were building the foundation and laying the groundwork for a lot of the things we’re doing right now. One of them of course is our online pre-order platform. We have been focused on connecting all the dots in our vertically integrated markets to make sure our retail experience is really fine-tuned and represents what a diverse range of cannabis consumers find helpful and truly enjoy. In my time at Jushi, I have gained a much better understanding of the average cannabis consumer through constantly analyzing data from our retail spaces, and I very much look forward to analyzing more robust data that’s coming in through our new smartphone app. 

Andreas Neumann, Chief Creative Director of Jushi Holdings

The data we have now is allowing us to look at what product developments are most important for us to move forward with and what product categories we should be focusing most on. Because we may be on the cusp of a recession, the consumer value of our product is that much more crucial. With the introduction of new categories of fast-acting edibles and unique and exciting genetics and types of flower, we are paying close attention to how we can innovate in ways that will both excite our current customers and attract new customers to our brands. 

Jushi is interesting because the company really came together from two key pieces: the first being our strong financial and management backbone, and the second, the powerful creative team that I am a part of. We have such a special focus on the quality of products, with the goal of creating high-quality and consistency across our house of brands.

We have had a lot of acquisitions, which have played out very successfully over time, but early on, through these acquisitions, we found there were products and procedures that weren’t up to our standards. It takes time to fix those things from a quality, genetics and consistency perspective, and I’m thrilled to say we’re really getting there. Notably, we felt the need to improve our edible fruit chew brand, and we poured a ton of time into reinventing and relaunching simple, but high-quality, organic, 100% real-fruit chews. 

Now, we are really seeing the value in our three retail brands and the unique attributes of our branded flower, pre rolls, vapes and edibles. Also, we have been really focusing on improving sustainability as we move towards using much more sustainable, standardized mylar packaging across our product suite. This packaging not only reduces our carbon footprint, as mylar is a much more sustainable, recyclable and lightweight material, but also offers us more real estate to express Jushi’s personality through artwork on packaging and allows us to display our products with a larger presence in stores. 

CIJ: You mentioned Jushi’s new app and you sound so excited about it. Tell us more: how are you using the data to analyze what your customers want? 

The Jushi app, The Hello Club (THC)

Neumann: When we were building our online platform, we knew we needed to better understand our customers. What we found was that the most important marketing tools in cannabis are promos – specifically promos through text messaging. Our loyalty program has become our biggest channel to reach consumers, as we have over 200,000 people we can reach with a simple text message. The big problem with texting campaigns, however, is that mobile phone carriers can limit your deliverability if you don’t have the right verbiage and messaging. So working with and figuring out how to deliver the right message to our customers can be very challenging. 

Our smartphone app, The Hello Club (THC), came about as a natural progression of our customer loyalty program. Our team has a lot of experience working in UX and UI, so we were able to dive right in and build the app through Apple. We really took our time to build something that would add value to our customer, and it’s paid off. For instance, starting out we launched an exclusive weekly deal only available in the app. So, guess what happens? Just yesterday, on the 15th of November alone, 11,000 people downloaded the app. 

Their retail location in Alexandria, Virginia

The app will be something that we play around and experiment with as more and more customers download it. It provides us with a platform to be creative and have fun with our customers, where we can launch exclusive events and strain drops and grant exclusive access to our products before they’re available to the general public. 

The Hello Club was completely designed from scratch. It allows customers to choose their local, preferred store, with the ultimate goal of it becoming the central hub of their cannabis needs. The data we get from the app is so vast and there are so many opportunities on the horizon – we have only just scratched the surface. In the future, as we look to enter new markets, we’re excited to utilize the customer data from our app to guide us in deciding what to sell and where and create unique retail experiences tailored to each market. As we’re just in version 1.0, there’s tons of untapped potential ready to be unearthed and applied. 

CIJ: Around this time last year you said that PA was the most important market for y’all. Tell me about the states that Jushi does business in. Are you paying particular attention to any market more now given the midterm elections?

Neumann: Yes, so Pennsylvania is still our most important market today, mainly because we have so many retail locations in the state (18). Pennsylvania is interesting because it’s also the site of Jushi’s first acquisition ever. I think the inevitable move from medical to recreational in the state will be extremely significant; it will be one of the greatest transitions in cannabis history. Because of our footprint and brand presence in Pennsylvania, we are in an excellent position for when adult use comes online.

The Palm Springs retail location

We call Virginia the sleeping giant because it’s a market we have really cornered. We will have six stores in northern Virginia, close to Washington D.C., in areas with large populations, very diverse demographics and a lot of young people. Our retail locations in the state are freestanding buildings with ample parking – key attributes that benefit customers and lift sales, as we found from the data we collected in Pennsylvania. Virginia has incredible potential because we have made such a formidable early presence with our vertically integrated, IKEA-sized grow operation there. We have applied our findings from other states to Virginia, and we’re thrilled about the opportunity for us to showcase high-quality products in this market. 

California is such a tough market to be in, as it’s the most competitive cannabis market in the world, with some of the most discerning customers, so operators often fear entering the market. But it’s proven to be great for R&D for us, and we continue to learn how to navigate and work in this competitive market through our Palm Springs, Grover Beach and Santa Barbara retail locations. By necessity, we’ve been particularly creative with our marketing and operational strategies to carve a place in the market; we have to show people we have better products and a better experience, which is very difficult with stringent regulations in places like Palm Springs. So California, for us, continues to be a proving ground where we are learning how to be as competitive as possible, and this benefits Jushi as a whole.

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 5

By Phil Gibson
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This is Part 5 in The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations series. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2,  here to see Part 3, and here to see part 4. Stay tuned for the final piece in the series, Part 6, coming in the new year.

Genetics

With climate and cultivation methods explored, today, we cover the third leg in the primary stool, genetics. Some would say good genetics is all that you need and anyone can be successful with good genetics. We all know that this is not experience talking. Things can go wrong, even with great genetics. Here are some inputs how to pick great genetics so you have them on your side.

Hybrids & Strains

Seeds, the beginning of genetic performance

Everything successful cultivators grow is aligned to their consumer audience. This is hard to predict as the desires in your market will migrate over time as one variety will be highly popular and poof, it’s not, so constant change is necessary. Finding the right flower at the right time is the trick.

The first thing to decide in your pursuit of the ideal phenotype (or pheno-hunt) are your target customers. Assuming you’ve made the choice to go “top-shelf” for aeroponic or hydroponic flower, your variety selection comes down to filial breeder seeds or stable strains from suppliers you know.

Filial hybrids are developed by professional breeders. Two distinct inbred strains are repetitively crossed until their traits are highly consistent. At this point, these carefully inbred lines are crossed to selectively mix the two well defined sets of traits. Filial hybrids are stable and you can usually rely on the robust nature of these seeds.

Strains, on the other hand, are the cross of two strains but they may not be inbred stable filial strains. Sometimes this results in something amazing, but just as randomly, the traits can morph into something disappointing.

Our advice here is to pay the premium and start with high quality reliable stock.

Uniformity

Consistency? Will you grow one variety or multiple varieties per room and per harvest; will they grow well together? Do they grow and test out in a consistent manner (plant size, color, bud size & yield, tested terpene profiles, aroma, disease resistance or tolerance). Are you growing for top shelf flower or bulk extraction? I will focus this discussion on top shelf flower. Premium seeds from professional filial hybrids are not a guarantee, but they are designed to be stable and consistent in their growth and results targeting high performance.

High cannabinoids: 420Kingdom Grapes & Cream

Here, experience counts and reliable seed vendors tend to be well established with filial lines that are worth the investment. Once you acquire your genetics, how to leverage that investment?

Killer Genetics

What traits does your consumer want? Initial searches usually target THC or CBD levels and they evolve to special terpene profiles or pleasing aromas. Flower or bud shape, color, size, density, and stickiness are also traits that can differentiate your genetics. As a producer, you also want to target yield including tall or stretching genetics, or short and fast flowering, germination rates (sometimes they don’t) and percentage of likely hermaphroditing (seldom zero). The qualitative aspects (smoking characteristics) of your production flower that deliver a unique customer experience, both real and imagined, wrap up your brand experience.

So, as you can guess, one size does not fit all types of consumers. Very high yielders that are immediately targeted for extraction offer very different values than perhaps a smaller yielding very potent top shelf smokeable bud. It is a good strategy to plan for a handful of strains that you can bring to market so you have something that will hit the sweet-spot when you deliver your harvests.

Seeds

Seeds with documented guarantees from reliable sources eliminate the characteristic risk, and with the right testing reports, they guarantee no pathogens as well.

The challenge of seeds can be genetic variation, as discussed above, depending on the stability of the commercial breeder. This potential variance can lead to surprises and disappointment. Starting from seed also takes more time to germinate the seeds, exterminate the males, grow mother plants, take cuttings, and start the cycle. This can add 12-16 weeks to your go-green targets for your flower rooms. Be sure to integrate this cycle time planning into your production cycle.

Clones

Insourced clones are the fastest way to go green and move through veg to produce flowering plants and bud harvest. Clones are created by taking a branch cutting from a “mother” plant and typically “rooting” that cutting using an aeroponic cloning system. This clone process can take a few days or weeks depending on the grow environment and aeroponics process. A rooted clone maintains the genetic characteristics and phenotype of the mother plant.

The typical way smaller grow shops get started is through buying clones that are made from these rooted branch cuttings. The combination of mother plants, clones, and sometimes “veg” plants are gathered together in a “nursery”. Nurseries need to be stable for long periods of time to produce the veg growth necessary for cuttings. This time delay makes it harder for the nursery provider to keep the area sterile, without disease, and without pests. If the mothers carry a disease, they are likely to transfer that biologic over to the cuttings. If the media that the clones are grown in picks up root gnats, they will travel with the clones into your facility. The short answer is source your clones from professionally run operations. This trust is worth every penny.

Blue Dream clone array: AEssenseGrows

Insourcing clones allows you to avoid the cost and complexity of running a “nursery”, but this also moves the pest management and quality of mother stock and clones outside of your control zone. In other words, you depend on the clone supplier for both healthy plants AND availability. No clone available from your supplier means no flower in your grow rooms. Your production revenue depends on the reliability of your clone supplier in many ways.

In some grow operations, the nursery is extended to cover the vegetative growth stage of cannabis plants or “veg.” In other approaches, a flower room is occupied for an additional week or two for veg growth. We at AEssenseGrows are strong advocates of running all cloning and vegging activity in a vertical aeroponic nursery in parallel to your flower rooms

Mothers, clone, and veg stages all grow with a vegetative growth light schedule (18 hours on, 6 hours off). The typical process is to take a cutting from a mother plant, place that in an aeroponic “cloner” for 10-12 days until a healthy set of roots is formed for the cutting. That clone is then typically pinched off at the top of the plant at which point the veg stage can begin. Light intensity is gradually increased and the plants are typically vegged for an additional 2 weeks, at this point, you have a bushy veg plant that is ready for a 12/12 light cycle and flowering.

In aeroponics, all of this is done in nursery space. If you choose to use soil or grow media approaches, a series of increasingly larger buckets or rockwool cubes are needed to manage the veg stage and the transition to flower. This can be done in a dedicated veg room or for the first week or two in the flower rooms

Tissue Culture

Healthy Agent Orange mothers: Onyx

Another method for creating your young plants is tissue culture. This is the method of harvesting genetic material from an existing plant with desired characteristics. These genetic samples can be contamination free and even supplied by a genetic bank. A portion of these tissues are cultured in a gel grow tray and the plant will develop roots with a stalk that reaches upward for light energy.

These plant starts are hardened in a similar method to cloning and typically, these starts are grown into mothers that supply your cuttings for the clone cycle. This is an advanced method, so plan for research and development with expected delays to the front end of your sourcing cycle if you choose this path.

Strain Examples

Selecting the best genetics for your market is an art form. Many choices abound. High yielding dense classic strains are Blue Dream, Skittles, Sour Diesel and Girl Scout Cookies. Each of these deliver a typical 18%-24% THC content from fast growing, medium height high plants that yield dense buds. Very potent THC genetics that are popular currently are various “OG” genetics, Bruce Banner, various “Cake” genetics and Kush options. Variants of these run from 25% to 35% THC content.

This Chapter’s Hero Award

Every customer produces great results for their markets but we are very impressed by the genetic selections by 420Kingdom in the central valley of California. Jeffrey Thorn is the owner there and continues to impress with a range of high potency genetics that demand premium prices and sell out regularly in their highly competitive market.

With good genetics for your consumers, you are positioned to be successful. Advanced cultivation methods like aeroponics and hydroponics can give you a lift and the right environment and nutrition helps you tie this all together. Our next and last chapter will cover consistency and repeatability through Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).