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Learning from the First Wave Part 2: California’s Cannabis Supply Chain and Vertical Integration, with a Grain of Salt

By Todd Feldman
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Part One of this series took a look at how the regulated cannabis market can only be understood in relation to the previous medical market as well as the ongoing “traditional” market. Part Two of the series describes how regulation defines vertical integration in California cannabis, and conversely, how vertical integration can address some of the problems that the regulations create. But first:

A Grain of Salt

Take the conventional wisdom about vertical integration with a grain of salt. Expected benefits may not materialize under the current circumstances:

  • Overall, the business environment is highly challenging due to extensive regulation, over taxation, insufficient retail capacity and competition from the “traditional” market. As a result, integrating businesses upstream or downstream may mean capturing losses, not profits.
  • The three major types of cannabis activity span three major industrial sectors: raw materials (i.e., cultivation), manufacturing and service (distribution, testing and retail). As a result, a vertically integrated company needs to carry out very different types of activity, which require very different types of core competencies, equipment and facilities.
    • Developing core competencies is especially challenging because each of the major cannabis sectors is still evolving.
    • Realizing the benefits of vertical integration requires an additional core competency in cross-sector operations.

 Regulations Define the Supply Chain

California’s regulations define the cannabis supply chain by defining both the individual links (licensees) and the relationships between those links. Therefore, an understanding of vertical integration must be grounded in an understanding of the underlying regulatory definitions.

The regulatory definition of each link is extensive. For example, each licensee is tied to a specific facility, and must have its own procedures for production, inventory control, security, etc. When the links are strung together, this definition tends to preserve operational redundancies, and impede operational integration.

Overall, the relationships between the links are primarily defined in terms of preserving the chain of cannabis custody. On top of that, regulations define very specific (and very consequential) links between certain licenses, as discussed below.

A Taxonomy of Links

There are currently 26 types of cannabis license in California, 25 of which can be vertically integrated:

  • Cultivation – 14 licenses, including 4 sizes each for Indoor (up to 22,0000 sf), Mixed Light (up to 22,000 sf) and Outdoor (up to 1 acre), as well as Nursery and Processor (drying, trimming and packaging/labeling). Note that cultivation licenses are the only licenses that restrict the scale of activities.
  • Manufacturing5 licenses, including volatile extraction, non-volatile extraction, everything but extraction (i.e., infusion) and packaging/labeling.
  • Testing (Type 8), for testing cannabis according to state standards prior to sale. The owner of a testing license cannot own any other type of license.
  • Distribution (Type 11), acts as the gateway between cultivation and manufacturing on the one hand, and retail on the other. The distributor’s gateway status is entirely an artifact of regulation – cannabis must be officially tested before it is sold to a consumer, and only a distributor can order the official test. All products must stay in a “quarantine” area at the distributor until they pass testing. Products that fail testing must be destroyed if they cannot be remediated.
  • Transport (Type 13), which can move cannabis between licensees (with a narrow exception). This license does not allow for official testing.
  • Storefront Retail (Type 9), which is the best license to have, and the hardest one to get.
  • Delivery Retail (Type 10), for delivery services that are subject to the vagaries of software platforms and the intransigence of local authorities.
  • Microbusiness (Type 12), which allows the licensee to carry out cultivation (up to 10,000 square feet), non-volatile manufacturing, distribution and retail.
  • Event Organizer

Self-Distribution – A Case of Useful Integration

You may gather from the previous section that shoving a gratuitous and mandatory distributor into the middle of the supply chain creates problems for cultivators and manufacturers. Savvy operators solve this problem by getting a distribution license. This allows the cultivator or manufacturer to:

  • Pick the time and place for the testing of its cannabis products.
  • Avoid paying someone else for the storage of cannabis products as they await test results or purchase.
  • Reduce transport costs (particularly if the distributor is near the other operations).
  • Sell directly to retailers.

The bottom line is that vertical integration in California cannabis is useful as a means to an end, as opposed to an end in itself. Therefore, cannabis operators should carefully consider how vertical integration will benefit their core business before incurring the risks and expenses associated with an additional license.

This article is an opinion only and is not intended to be legal advice.

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.

Managing Supply Chain Challenges During a Crisis

By Daniel Erickson
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Discussion of supply chain disruption has permeated media reports almost daily since the advent of the current COVID-19 crisis – from shortages of toilet paper to cleaning products and meat. Cannabis businesses have not been immune to impacts on their supplies, and for an industry that faces unique challenges during normal times, a disrupted supply chain has emerged as one of the biggest issues to business due to the coronavirus. Deemed essential in many states, cannabis has weathered the storm relating to government-imposed restrictions only to face logistics problems or a scarcity of supplies necessary for manufacturing and/or distributing products to consumers. For many companies, cannabis ERP software has provided a necessary and supportive structure to efficiently manage and mitigate supply chain challenges during this unprecedented time – facilitating continuity and trust in the supply chain for their customers.

What is COVID-19’s impact on the cannabis supply chain?

During this pandemic, the global supply chain has been disrupted due to factory closures, worker illness, slowed production, closed ports and altered transportation routes – leading to shipping delays and fewer supplies available, from cultivating essentials and vaping accessories, to baking ingredients for edible manufacturers and packaging materials. A quarantined workforce, as well as a shortage of healthy crop care and production workers necessary to grow and harvest crops, has also had an effect. Similar to other current supply issues, there has been significant inventory depletion as consumers prepared to stock up on cannabis products for “stay at home” orders in anticipation of spending extended periods of time at their residence. Uniquely pertinent to the cannabis industry, due to the lack of federal legalization, regulation occurs at the state level and therefore each state governs its cannabis inventory available for sale. These factors have all led to the two biggest problems facing today’s cannabis industry – companies lacking visibility into their inventory and the fact that many do not have alternate vendors for their supplies to meet current consumer demands.

How a cannabis ERP software solution can help

During a disruption to the supply chain such as the COVID-19 outbreak, natural disasters, or other unexpected events, here are three ways an industry-specific ERP system supports effective supply chain management for the cannabis industry:

1) Continuous management and monitoring of inventory and effective material planning – With a real-time tracking system that monitors the movement and storage of inventory by managing and automating transactions and providing lot tracking and traceability, cannabis companies have up-to-the-minute access to crucial inventory data. Accurate analysis of future requirements, as well as procurement guidelines that include minimum order quantities and safety stock levels, ensure the proper planning and reordering of materials – avoiding lags in production due to inventory shortages. Using the information recorded in an ERP solution’s centralized database, such as vendor lead times, shelf life and production timelines, buyers and planners are able to effectively utilize materials requirements planning (MRP) functionality to factor supply, demand and forecasted requirements to plan production and purchasing. Customer purchasing fluctuations throughout the year for holidays and seasonal consumer trends are also tracked in the system, and its analytics software provides growers, cultivators and manufacturers with the visibility to mitigate supply shock and analyze previous periods of hardship to provide actionable insight.

An integral part of inventory control includes testing protocols and quality processes that are automated in an ERP solution. These workflows and approval processes ensure that specific quality standards are met and non-compliant raw materials are quarantined, removed from production and issues are rectified – keeping undeclared substances, harmful chemicals and impure ingredients from infiltrating the supply chain or ending up in finished goods. During these critical and trying times, assurances that materials and ingredients are safely managed and monitored is imperative.

2) Maintenance of supplier information and rankings – A cannabis ERP solution provides features for managing supplier and item specific details to monitor and control which materials can and should be purchased from each vendor. A strong relationship with each supplier is critical in gathering this information, as this helps assign and manage a risk level with each supplier. Current and accurate information (either provided by the vendor or acquired from on-site visits) regarding sanitation programs in place, security measures, physical distancing policies and other details ensures that a cannabis company starts with a foundation of quality raw materials for their products. An ERP solution maintains a list of these approved suppliers to provide already vetted and documented alternatives should a primary supplier’s materials be unavailable. Once vendors are recorded they can be ranked in order of preference and/or risk level so that if a supplier becomes unavailable, another can be quickly identified and used in its place. An ERP’s maintenance of approved supplier lists is an industry best practice that provides supply chain visibility to enhance the assurance of safety.

3) Establishment of supplier transparency through audit rights and communication – An ERP’s ability to manage and monitor all supplier transactions and communications helps facilitate audit rights to evaluate the financial viability of vendor partners. Data is collected regarding vendor price points, historical transactions, average lead times and quality control results in order to identify vendor trends and build a risk assessment with a scorecard rating system for each supplier. Potential supply chain issues can be identified in real-time – such as price increases or delivery delays – prompting communication with suppliers to address problems or triggering the change to an alternate source for materials. Transparency and open communication are key to vendor analysis by researching all suppliers. An ERP solution’s maintenance of current, accurate information is essential to keeping a consistent inventory.

A centralized ERP system facilitates the maintenance and management of the supply chain when a crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19 hinders supplies from arriving or the safety of vendor materials comes into question. Inventory management best practices within the solution help to avoid production lags due to inventory shortages, materials planning provides insight into scheduling and production, and quality assurance procedures prevent harmful products from being sold to consumers. By utilizing features such as the approved supplier and alternative supplier processes within the system should a primary suppliers’ materials be unavailable, there is no need to scramble to find replacement vendors, as they are already vetted and documented within the solution. The system also provides transparency of supplier information to make key decisions regarding vendor rankings and risk level. While the cannabis supply chain is relatively new and untested, proactive companies have the technological tools available in an ERP solution at their disposal to weather the current crisis and face future industry challenges head-on.

Gaps in Standard Property Insurance Can be an Unknown Hazard for Cannabis Businesses

By Susan Preston, T.J. Frost
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Basic business liability coverage is not enough for those cultivating, selling and distributing cannabis. General liability, property and even commercial renter’s insurance policies all exclude aspects of cannabis operations, leading to significant gaps in coverage.

Unfortunately, many cannabis operations purchase traditional property policies, assuming they’re insured. Then, when a claim comes to light, they find out they’re not covered.Consider the following common exclusions that could lead to a costly business interruption – or worse

Although the production, sales and distribution of cannabis is legal in many U.S. states, it is still illegal federally. This disparity can cause confusion when it comes to insurance compliance. Cannabis companies will want to secure industry specific coverage for risks associated with property, business interruption, and auto as well as general liability.

Consider the following common exclusions that could lead to a costly business interruption – or worse – a shutdown of operations when not properly insured:

  • Property coverage does not cover crops. Cannabis crops require specific coverage for different growth stages, including seedling, living plant and fully harvested. The insurance industry has designed policies specifically for indoor crop coverage for cannabis operations. There is some market availability for normal insured perils such as fire and theft, to name a few. Work with your broker to review your property policy and any potential exclusions related to cannabis operations. There is currently not much availability for insurance for outdoor crop.
  • Auto policies exclude cannabis transport. Some states require separate permits for transportation. Review coverage options with a knowledgeable broker before moving forward with driver hiring. Implement driver training sessions on a regular basis, conduct background checks and review MVRs prior to hiring company drivers. Teach drivers how to handle accidents on the scene, including informing law enforcement of the cannabis cargo. Remember that transporting cannabis across state lines (even when legal in both states) is still illegal due to federal law.
  • Equipment damage and/or breakdown coverage may be excluded from property policies. Consider the expenses and potential loss of revenue due to mechanical or electrical breakdown of any type of equipment due to power surges, burnout, malfunctions and user error. Having the right equipment breakdown insurance will help you quickly get back into full operation, with minimal costs. Conduct an onsite risk assessment of your equipment to get a comprehensive picture of your risk exposure, and review current insurance policies to identify key exclusions. 

Organizations looking for cannabis business insurance are best off working with a qualified broker who is knowledgeable in the cannabis space.As the cannabis industry continues to expand, more and more insurance options have become available. And yet as with any fast-paced industry, not every option that appears legitimate is a good risk for your cannabis business.

Be a contentious insurance consumer. Review the policy closely for exclusions and coverage features so you understand the premium rates and limits of the policy.  Discuss with your broker the history of the carrier as to paying claims in a timely fashion.

Organizations looking for cannabis business insurance are best off working with a qualified broker who is knowledgeable in the cannabis space.

The 2018 Farm Bill Legalized Industrial Hemp. Now What? Get Your Answers Here.

By Josh Smart
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The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 legalized the growth, sales and transportation of industrial hemp across state lines. Although it looks identical to other types of cannabis, this cannabis plant contains less than 0.3 percent THC, and can be used to make building insulation, beauty products, car dashboards and more. Most significantly for farmers, it can serve as an ideal rotational crop because of its ability to reduce soil toxicity.

Until this update to the Farm Bill, hemp was considered a controlled substance and few U.S. farmers were granted rights to plant and harvest it. Now, the agricultural commodity is expected to raise the crop’s already growing GDP to that of liquor and beer sales and some estimate it should reach $20 billion in as little as five years.

Agribusinessesand farmers alike will now be looking to secure processors and other commodity buyers ahead of planting industrial hemp and purchasing the necessary equipment for its harvest. Because hemp can be grown in any climate, it may be especially attractive to tobacco growers and dairy farmers who have been less profitable as of late. 

Now that it’s been legalized, what’s the risk?

As more agribusinesses and farmers look to confirm viability of industrial hemp growth, potential liabilities will surface. The 2018 Farm Bill left many questions unanswered. Here are a just a few FAQs:

Question: Can I just add hemp to my crop rotation, or is additional insurance required?

Answer: The standard multi-peril crop insurance policy DOES NOT provide coverage for planting hemp, or endorsements for its storage and transportation- yet. Instead, industrial hemp must be insured on separate private policies for: harvest, extreme weather and crop storage and transportation. There’s a strong push to get industrial hemp into the federal crop insurance program as early as crop year 2020. As hemp planting, harvesting, storage and transportation become more understood and predictable, new policy options will likely become available. Inquire about new coverage options at your next annual renewal.

Q: How will the FDA regulate industrialized hemp?

A: The FDA will develop rules and regulations on industrial hemp throughout 2019, and will be ready for rollout during the 2020 crop year. Because it’s impossible to distinguish a cannabis plant with THC from an industrial hemp plant in the field, crop lifecycle testing and documentation will likely be required. The question remains if this testing and documentation will be incumbent on the farm/agribusiness, or FDA agents. Some states are further along in this process and have already hired testing and compliance officers.

Q: How can farmers ensure that the THC content of their plants does not exceed .3%?   

A: Farmers must have a contingency plan for monitoring their hemp’s THC content which should include employing a seasoned agronomist who can institute controls, keep plants properly hydrated and create a plan to maintain optimal THC levels. In the heat of the summer, THC levels typically remain low, but rise with cold and rain. Should there be a local cold spell, high rainfall, or if the hemp plant was seeded late in the season and the harvest runs into the fall, THC levels could rise quickly. When this happens, farmers will have to chop down the plant to control the level and harvest the plant’s flower before its next THC test.As with any emerging market, there is still a lot of doubt surrounding the growth and sales of industrial hemp, as many risks are unknown. 

Q: Can I transport hemp across state lines to a processor in another state?

A: On paper, industrial hemp is legal across all 50 states, and therefore can be transported across state lines and sold as any other commodity. In reality, though, hemp is undistinguishable from cannabis to the naked eye, and therefore, shipping an entire biomass directly from the field across state lines has a good chance of being confiscated.

When hemp is confiscated on the side of the road – even if it is eventually returned – there could be significant lag in delivery, storage is uncertain and quality control can’t be maintained. Alternatively, farmers are now shipping their hemp in smaller, unmarked loads, which is forcing them to hold onto product for longer than usual.

As with any emerging market, there is still a lot of doubt surrounding the growth and sales of industrial hemp, as many risks are unknown. On the flip side, industrial hemp offers small farmers and agribusinesses alike an unprecedented opportunity to get in at the ground floor of a new crop. If you do, make sure to work with your insurance broker to secure proper coverage immediately.

Transporting Cannabis Can Be a Costly Business Risk

By Susan Preston, T.J. Frost
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Did you know that the use of personal vehicles for transporting cannabis products is one of the most frequent claims in the cannabis industry? It surpasses property, product liability and even theft. Businesses are either unaware of the risks involved in using personal vehicles for transporting cannabis, or they aren’t taking them seriously enough.

Considering the strict statutes many states have placed on transporting cannabis should be reason alone to be more diligent. For example, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s proposed regulations require cannabis business owners to ensure their drivers have designated permits to transport the product. The state’s current legislation mandates inspections at any licensed premises, and requires employers to provide detailed tracking and schedules on the transport of product. Further, the state prohibits using minors to transport cannabis, and considers it a felony to do so.

Regulatory concerns, combined with the potential liabilities that could come from driver behavior, are keeping insurers from offering auto coverage to the cannabis industry. In fact, just four insurers currently offer the industry auto coverage, with premiums running as high as $17,000 per auto on average. It is important to note that personal auto insurance falls short because it doesn’t cover cargo loss.

Alternatively, because the stakes are so high, many companies are using courier services to transport cannabis product. But cargo insurance is still an issue. Without it, the care, custody and control of someone else’s products, and insurance limits are lacking. Even when the courier has cargo coverage, because they are delivering for multiple companies, the claims payout would have to be split amongst all the customers – likely below the value of your loss.

Consider the following best practices when transporting cannabis:

  • Conduct background checks/review DMV records. Uncovering any potential driver issues prior to hiring is critical. Look for previous DUIs or drug related history. Employees who might use product before getting behind the wheel are a significant danger to other drivers and a major liability to the employer. Even after hiring, be on alert for signs that indicate poor driving performance. Use check-in/check-out processes for all drivers, and conduct regular vehicle walk-arounds to look for scratches, dents or other damage that otherwise might be unreported to the employer.First, and most importantly, assess your risk mitigation options. Then, put processes in place as soon as possible to eliminate risk. 
  • Implement quarterly driver training. Educate employees on proper procedures. While minor fender benders and sideswipe accidents are most common, even these can be costly if not handled properly. Once law enforcement get involved in an accident the car’s transportation of cannabis could become a secondary issue. Teach drivers how to handle accidents while on the scene, including informing law enforcement about the cargo and the employer.
  • Use unmarked vehicles. Drivers carrying a significant amount of product and/or cash are tempting targets for thieves. Company cars used for transporting product should be newer, and have no fleet serial numbers or anything identifying the company.
  • Require increased personal liability limits. If an employee is using their own personal vehicle for business purposes, the business owner should require that person carry more than minimum limits of personal liability.  Ideally, they should have $300,000 or more, at an absolute minimum $100,000.

Get started now

First, and most importantly, assess your risk mitigation options. Then, put processes in place as soon as possible to eliminate risk. Secure the right insurance coverage, and ask your broker/underwriter to provide any additional recommendations to best mitigate your transportation, delivery, and cargo exposures.

To learn more, please visit our website.

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Interstate Hemp Transportation: A Cautionary Tale

By Robert M. Kline
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Two bags are sitting on the table in front of you. The first bag contains legal hemp. The second one contains illegal marijuana. Can you tell which is which? Neither can state troopers at a traffic stop.

On January 24, 2019, Dennis Palamarchu, an interstate truck driver, had 6,700 pounds of hemp in his rig. Mr. Palamarchu had picked up the load at Boones Ferry Berry Farms in Hubbard, Oregon. Before he reached his destination at Big Sky Scientific, LLC (“Big Sky”) in Aurora, Colorado, the Idaho State Police stopped him on I-84, outside of Boise. Mr. Palamarchu indicated that he was hauling hemp. He did not try to run or escape, and he never tried to dispose of the load. The bill of lading showed that the shipment consisted of approximately 7,000 pounds of hemp. The Idaho State Police arrested Mr. Palamarchu for felony trafficking in marijuana.

Around the same time, Pawhuska police in Oklahoma seized over 17,000 pounds of hemp on its way from Kentucky to Colorado. The cargo was valued at about $850,000. A spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control said, “We don’t know if it is marijuana. We don’t know if it is hemp.”

I-84 outside of Boise, Idaho
Image: David O., Flickr

The recent events in Idaho and Oklahoma are inevitable consequences of the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334 (“2018 Farm Bill”). The 2018 Farm Bill provides that no state shall be allowed to prohibit the transportation of hemp through the state. However, a product that contains more than 0.3% THC – in the eyes of federal law – is marijuana, not hemp. Unlike hemp, marijuana still is subject to state statutes and the federal Controlled Substances Act. The legal distinction between hemp and marijuana is too subtle for the human eye, or a trained K-9’s impressive nose, and it has created a quandary for interstate hemp shippers like Mr. Palamarchu and Big Sky.

When Idaho State Police seized Big Sky’s hemp, Big Sky went to federal court1. On February 19, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho recognized that in the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress legalized the interstate transportation of hemp grown in the United States so long as the hemp was “produced in accordance with subtitle G” of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. However, the federal plan is undeveloped and Oregon does not have a federally-approved plan, so no one knows what it means to be “produced in accordance with subtitle G.” The federal court therefore concluded that Big Sky’s hemp could not possibly have been “produced in accordance with subtitle G.”

The court recognized, “[a]t some future date, industrial hemp that has been ‘produced in accordance with subtitle G’ will undoubtedly be transported in interstate commerce across states like Idaho that have not legalized industrial hemp.” In the meantime, however, the court found that Idaho could keep Big Sky’s cash crop, which sits deteriorating in the possession of law enforcement. Big Sky has appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The hemp market is projected to approach $2 billion by 2020. By then, hopefully, federal law will clarify what it means for hemp to be “produced in accordance with subtitle G.” In the meantime, Idaho’s House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would allow hemp producers from the 41 states that have legalized hemp to transport their crops and products through Idaho, so long as they get a permit from the state and do not unload any of their cargo there. Idaho Senators then added a section to that bill, announcing their intent for Idaho to legalize hemp in time for the 2020 growing season. The House, however, never signed off on the Senate amendments, effectively killing the bill. Until such a bill becomes law, transporters of interstate hemp should consider taking the long way home.


References

  1.  Big Sky Scientific, LLC v. Idaho State Police, et al., No. 19-cv-00040-REB, Dkt No. 32 (D. Id. Feb. 19, 2019)

Logistics and Supply Chain Management in California

By Aaron G. Biros
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Just a couple weeks away, the California Cannabis Business Conference, taking place in Anaheim, CA October 22-23, will host a series of panel discussions where attendees can expect to learn from industry leaders on a variety of topics. As businesses in the state adjust to new regulations and the market matures, one particular topic seems to highlight a challenging new space: distribution.

Track 1 at the CA Cannabis Business Conference, Distribution, Retail and Delivery, will begin early afternoon on Monday at the show, where a panel discussion titled State of Cannabis Distribution: Scaling Cannabis Distribution and Expectations of a Distributor, will tackle a range of issues involving logistics and supply chain management in California’s cannabis industry.

Michael Wheeler, vice president of Policy Initiatives at Flow Kana, will host the panel, joined by Chris Coulombe, CEO of Pacific Expeditors, Jesse Parenti, programs director of Nine Point Strategies and Brian Roth, vice president of sales at KUDU Technologies. According to the agenda, the session will cover inventory management, shipping and transport, managing product data, order fulfillment, manifest creation and reporting on it all. Michael Wheeler says regulatory compliance is one issue they plan on discussing. “Currently the biggest pressure on compliance is the desire by some operators to live under the proposed regulations, instead of the current emergency regulations,” says Wheeler. “Add to this recently signed legislation and we have lots of opportunistic actions each with their own perception of compliance.”

Another important topic they plan on discussing is driver training and hiring practices. According to Chris Coulombe, drivers are one of the top two most important customer-facing teams in the organization. “Between the sales team and the fleet operation, drivers represent half of the face of your company,” says Coulombe. “Much like the sales team, they interface with your retail partners directly, and subsequently provide a sizable portion of the foundation that retailers will use to judge your company’s competency and efficiency.”

Chris Coulombe, CEO of Pacific Expeditors
Chris Coulombe, CEO of Pacific Expeditors

When hiring new drivers, Coulombe recommends the standard background and driver record checks, but urges looking for experience in sales and driving as well. “Find those that have leadership experience and are comfortable operating in quasi-structured environments,” says Coulombe. “To that end, we seek solution oriented candidates that are personable, experienced in troubleshooting on their feet, and understand how to operate inside the structure of an organization.”

Coulombe also emphasizes the importance of driver training in any distribution company. “We built our driver training from scratch based on collective experiences from the military,” says Coulombe. “However, creating this from scratch is not necessary at this point, some insurance companies, such as our broker, Vantreo, provide in house driver training and certification solutions as a risk mitigation measure for companies that they represent. We recommend speaking with your insurance company to find what packages they have available.” Proper training for your drivers can help increase efficiency in operations, decrease maintenance and insurance costs and provide for better employee engagement. Coulombe also says many insurance companies have standard operating procedures for drivers to help supplement your company’s protocols.

Chris Coulombe and the other panelists will dive much deeper into this issue and other supply chain topics at the upcoming California Cannabis Business Conference, taking place in Anaheim, CA October 22-23.

California Manufacturing Regulations: What You Need To Know

By Aaron G. Biros
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In late November, California released their proposed emergency regulations for the cannabis industry, ahead of the full 2018 medical and adult use legalization for the state. We highlighted some of the key takeaways from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s regulations for the entire industry earlier. Now, we are going to take a look at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) cannabis manufacturing regulations.

According to the summary published by the CDPH, business can have an A-type license (for products sold on the adult use market) and an M-type license (products sold on the medical market). The four license types in extraction are as follows:

  • Type 7: Extraction using volatile solvents (butane, hexane, pentane)
  • Type 6: Extraction using a non-volatile solvent or mechanical method
    (food-grade butter, oil, water, ethanol, or carbon dioxide)
  • Type N: Infusions (using pre-extracted oils to create edibles, beverages,
  • capsules, vape cartridges, tinctures or topicals)
  • Type P: Packaging and labeling only

As we discussed in out initial breakdown of the overall rules, California’s dual licensing system means applicants must get local approval before getting a state license to operate.

The rules dictate a close-loop system certified by a California-licensed engineer when using carbon dioxide or a volatile solvent in extraction. They require 99% purity for hydrocarbon solvents. Local fire code officials must certify all extraction facilities.

In the realm of edibles, much like the rule that Colorado recently implemented, infused products cannot be shaped like a human, animal, insect, or fruit. No more than 10mg of THC per serving and 100mg of THC per package is allowed in infused products, with the exception of tinctures, capsules or topicals that are limited to 1,000 mg of THC for the adult use market and 2,000 mg in the medical market. This is a rule very similar to what we have seen Washington, Oregon and Colorado implement.

On a somewhat interesting note, no cannabis infused products can contain nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. California already has brewers and winemakers using cannabis in beer and wine, so it will be interesting to see how this rule might change, if at all.

CA Universal Symbol (JPG)

The rules for packaging and labeling are indicative of a major push for product safety, disclosure and differentiating cannabis products from other foods. Packaging must be opaque, cannot resemble other foods packaged, not attractive to children, tamper-evident, re-sealable if it has multiple servings and child-resistant. The label has to include nutrition facts, a full ingredient list and the universal symbol, demonstrating that it contains cannabis in it. “Statute requires that labels not be attractive to individuals under age 21 and include mandated warning statements and the amount of THC content,” reads the summary. Also, manufacturers cannot call their product a candy.

Foods that require refrigeration and any potentially hazardous food, like meat and seafood, cannot be used in cannabis product manufacturing. They do allow juice and dried meat and perishable ingredients like milk and eggs as long as the final product is up to standards. This will seemingly allow for baked goods to be sold, as long as they are packaged prior to distribution.

Perhaps the most interesting of the proposed rules are requiring written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and following good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Per the new rules, the state will require manufacturers to have written SOPs for waste disposal, inventory and quality control, transportation and security.

Donavan Bennett, co-founder and CEO of the Cannabis Quality Group

According to Donavan Bennett, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Cannabis Quality Group, California is taking a page from the manufacturing and life science industry by requiring SOPs. “The purpose of an SOP is straightforward: to ensure that essential job tasks are performed correctly, consistently, and in conformance with internally approved procedures,” says Bennett. “Without having robust SOPs, how can department managers ensure their employees are trained effectively? Or, how will these department managers know their harvest is consistently being grown? No matter the employee or location.” California requiring written SOPs can potentially help a large number of cannabis businesses improve their operations. “SOPs set the tempo and standard for your organization,” says Bennett. “Without effective training and continuous improvement of SOPs, operators are losing efficiency and their likelihood of having a recall is greater.”

Bennett also says GMPs, now required by the state, can help companies keep track of their sanitation and cleanliness overall. “GMPs address a wide range of production activities, including raw material, sanitation and cleanliness of the premises, and facility design,” says Bennett. “Auditing internal and supplier GMPs should be conducted to ensure any deficiencies are identified and addressed. The company is responsible for the whole process and products, even for the used and unused products which are produced by others.” Bennett recommends auditing your suppliers at least twice annually, checking their GMPs and quality of raw materials, such as cannabis flower or trim prior to extraction.

“These regulations are only the beginning,” says Bennett. “As the consumer becomes more educated on quality cannabis and as more states come online who derives a significant amount of their revenue from the manufacturing and/or life science industries (e.g. New Jersey), regulations like these will become the norm.” Bennett’s Cannabis Quality Group is a provider of cloud quality management software for the cannabis industry.

“Think about it this way: Anything you eat today or any medicine you should take today, is following set and stringent SOPs and GMPs to ensure you are safe and consuming the highest quality product. Why should the cannabis industry be any different?”

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Should PA Revoke a Cannabis License For Their Parent Company’s Past?

By Aaron G. Biros
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Pennsylvania Medical Solutions, LLC (PAMS), won a license to grow medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, but some think the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) should reconsider awarding that license. PAMS is a subsidiary of Vireo Health, which has medical cannabis licenses in New York and Minnesota, as well as quite the blemish on their business record. In December 2015, two former employees were accused of breaking state and federal laws by transporting cannabis oil from Minnesota to New York. Because of that history, some are questioning why exactly they were awarded the PA medical cannabis license.

A part of the PAMS application

In that school of thought is Chris Goldstein, a Philadelphia-based cannabis advocate and author of an article on Philly.com, which calls PAMS’ license into question. According to Goldstein, Vireo Health could lose their licenses in New York and Minnesota, and those former employees involved might even face federal prosecution. “On the surface it would seem that Vireo broke every rule in the book,” says Goldstein. “Not only could the company lose its permits in both of those states, but employees could face federal prosecution for interstate transport and distribution.” But does that previous wrongdoing by two former employees have any bearing on their application in PA? In Maryland, it did. According to The Baltimore Sun, concerns surrounding MaryMed’s parent company, Vireo Health, is the main reason why their permit to grow medical cannabis was revoked.

In response to some of those concerns about their PA license, Andrew Mangini, spokesman for Vireo Health, issued the following statement, which appeared in Goldstein’s article: “While we’re aware of allegations against two former employees of an affiliate, those individuals have never had a role in our application or in the management of PAMS,” says Mangini. “It’s also important to note that our Minnesota affiliate and our parent company Vireo Health have not been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations.”

Below is a timeline of events leading up to the PA DOH defending their decision to give PAMS a license:

  • December 2015: Two former employees of Minnesota Medical Solutions, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, transported a half-million dollars worth of cannabis oil from Minnesota to New York, violating state and federal laws.
  • February 9th, 2017: The two former employees were formally charged with crimes in Minnesota for illegally transporting cannabis across state lines.
  • February 20th-March 20th, 2017: PAMS submitted a license application to the PA DOH between these dates, listing their business state as Minnesota on the application.
  • May 2017: Maryland DOH suspended the licenses of MaryMed LLC, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, over concerns that the company did not provide information related to the Minnesota and New York licenses on their application, according to the Washington Post.
  • June 20th, 2017: PA DOH releases a list of license winners; PAMS was listed among winners for a cultivation license in Scranton.
  • June 26th, 2017: PA DOH officials defend their decision to award PAMS a license, according to a Philly.com article. That same day, The Baltimore Sun reported the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission revoked MaryMed, LLC their license, citing concerns about Vireo Health.

April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the PA DOH, told Philly.com in June, “Remember, the permits are given to business entities, not people.” The point she is making refers to the charges being filed against former employees, not any of the businesses who hold medical cannabis licenses.

Steve Schain, Esq. practicing at the Hoban law Group

Steve Schain, Esq., an attorney with Hoban Law Group in Pennsylvania, has seen no objective evidence of anything wrongful in either PAMS’ application or the DOH’s processing of it. “Marijuana related businesses often have distinct, affiliated components and the Department of Health faces two critical issues,” says Schain.

“First, whether grow applicant PA Medical Solutions, LLC (PAMS) had a duty to disclose alleged wrongdoing on its application, failed to fulfill this duty and, if so, whether PAMS’ application should be amended, re-scored or disqualified. Second, as part of its ongoing license reporting requirements, whether grow licensee PAMS has any duty to disclose the alleged wrongdoing. The answer to much of this hinges on whether criminal or administrative charges were leveled against just Vireo Health’s former employees or also included the entity and whether these individuals or enterprise fell within Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Organization Permit Application definition of an “Applicant” (“individual or business applying for the permit”) or applicant’s “Principals, Financial Backers, Operators or Employees” of PAMS. Either way, it does not presently appear that the [PA] DOH missed anything.”

The list of permit winners in PA

This does raise the question of whether or not Vireo Health is under investigation, which is yet to be determined. According to Goldstein in his Philly.com article, the Minnesota DOH declined to comment on Vireo Health and the New York DOH says the department’s investigation is ongoing. “The selection of a Vireo Health affiliate to grow and process medical cannabis in Pennsylvania has cast a serious shadow over the integrity of the program even before it has started,” says Goldstein.

In Maryland, the DOH revoked their license as a direct result of those former employees in Minnesota committing crimes, according to The Baltimore Sun. Commissioner Eric Sterling said there is “a reasonable likelihood of diversion of medical cannabis by the applicant.” So should Pennsylvania do the same? Do those crimes by former employees have any bearing on their application? This story raises a number of questions regarding applications for state licenses that are largely left unanswered. One thing we know for certain: each state handles applications very differently.