The Rise of Hemp: The Federally Legal Industry is Booming

The hemp-derived CBD industry is expected to reach $16 billion nationwide by 2025. The ground-breaking Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 or Farm Bill removed low-THC cannabis and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, opening the door for FDA-regulated products like CBD pharmaceuticals, food items, additives, and dietary supplements. Already, major retailers like CVS and Kroger are selling CBD products. Granted CBD products, including CBD-infused water, CBD-infused cosmetics and CBD-infused pet treats in the marketplace pre-dated the Farm Bill, those products can now be shipped across state lines and sold legally at the federal level. Here’s what you need to know about the rise of hemp in the U.S.

Hemp Vs. Marijuana

Hemp and marijuana look and smell nearly the same, but the similarities stop there. They derive from the same plant, cannabis sativa, but hemp contains less than .3% THC while marijuana has much higher levels. Hemp is now considered a federally legal agricultural product, and majijuana remains a DEA Schedule 1 drug, only legal in states with medical and adult use programs. In addition, hemp is regulated by the FDA and marijuana is not.

Hemp Facilities

Just like with marijuana, there are hemp cultivation facilities, processing centers, and retail businesses. The focus and capital investment has been on processing centers with businesses in Colorado City, Colorado and Janesville, Wisconsin leading the charge. 

Colorado City has a population of under 3,000 but is home to Paragon Processing, the largest hemp-processing center in the United States. According to WestwordParagon will produce a variety of hemp extractions through isolation and distillation techniques, projecting to produce one million pounds of hemp monthly. Industrial hemp production has the complete buy-in from Governor Jared Polis. “Governor Polis’s administration has pushed for looser regulations on hemp farmers and businesses in order for this state to maintain its top spot in the hemp industry,” adds Westword. “During a recent speech at a hemp and CBD industry conference, Polis said that hemp farming was part of his rural economic initiative, and that he’d like to raise Colorado’s current 62,000 acres allotted for hemp farming by 20 percent.”

Wisconsin’s young market already has as big player in Simply Solutions, a maker of natural personal care products, getting into the hemp game. Simply Solutions will be the area’s first-to- market commercial-sale processing facility with another distinction: a method that extracts almost 100% CBD oil content. 

Per GazetteXtra, “Simply Solutions claims their extraction process is a cleaner and more efficient way to extract more CBD from hemp…Methods other producers use extract only 60% to 70% of the CBD, they said.That’s important, considering that some strains of hemp grown for CBD can net $2,500 to $75,000 an acre, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis industry analyst.”

Sourcing hemp from reputable farmers is crucial for CBD purity, as many companies are extracting CBD from hemp plants not bred for CBD.

Licensing and Regulations

The Farm Bill gives states the authority to submit plans for licensure and regulations. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “A state plan must include certain requirements, such as keeping track of land, testing methods, and disposal of plants or products that exceed the allowed THC concentration…State policymakers have taken action to address various policy issues — the definition of hemp, licensure of growers, regulation and certification of seeds, state-wide commissions and legal protection of growers.”

Keeping Marijuana and Hemp Separated
“Marijuana entrepreneurs who want to enter the federally legal CBD industry should consider starting a CBD business separate from the marijuana entity,” according to Marijuana Business Magazine. Though the Farm Bill has federally legalized the hemp industry, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, and the main concern for businesses is extracting CBD that stays below .3% THC content. However, the same owner can have separate hemp and marijuana businesses.

The same article reported that Fairwinds, located in Washington state, faced a dilemma, desiring to enter the hemp space. The company’s products include tinctures, capsules, and topicals derived from a cannabis strain with CBD-dominant ratios, but with THC content above the limit. “The solution wasn’t simply removing THC from the products, because that would make them less effective. Rather, in anticipation of hemp legalization, Fairwinds CEO James Hull and his team spent more than a year finding new cannabinoids that could replace THC in formulations that would be federally legal while still an effective treatment.” 

In the spirit and best practice of keeping the businesses separate, Hull ultimately created a new entity called Fairwinds CBD.

Less Oil Means More Plants

Another significant difference between hemp and marijuana is hemp’s lower oil content, which means that business owners must process more of the crop for an adequate CBD oil yield. Marijuana Business Magazine interviewed Craig Henderson, CEO of Extract Labs, a Boulder, Colorado-based extraction firm and CBD products manufacturer, who says hemp processing facilities will need larger extraction machines. “He [Henderson] estimated that a large marijuana company processes 100-300 pounds of cannabis per week, whereas large hemp companies process 2,000-10,000 pounds of the plant each week.”

In addition to larger equipment, business owners will need more employees and more space to handle the volume of product and extraction needs of hemp. “I think it’ll take people a couple months to figure out what they want to do and how they’re going to create businesses, and hopefully, maybe by June, we’ll see a huge spike in interest,” adds Henderson.

Proceed with Caution

The FDA remains the be all and end all governing body when it comes to regulating hemp. Hemp-derived CBD companies must be judicious about their product descriptions, especially information on potential health benefits. Moreover, the FDA has not given CBD as a food additive the designation of Generally Regarded as Safe.

Stipulated Sum Agreements Make Us the Right Builder for You

Our goal as a design-build firm is to create value for our clients through outstanding service-delivery and building trusted relationships. One of the many ways we achieve our goal is how we structure our contracts. Our clients want to know what they’re paying for, and we are able to clearly spell that out by providing stipulated sum agreements.

What is a Stipulated Sum?

Also referred to as a lump sum contract, a stipulated sum requires a builder to agree to provide specified services for a fixed price based on labor and material costs. The builder is responsible for executing the job properly and will provide its own means and methods to complete the project. Specifically, we use stipulated sum agreements with our multifamily and commercial projects, and they allow us to better define the scope and schedule of projects.

“We have always been client-centric, and what that means is that we want our clients to look at us as their design-build partners. The way we have been set up from inception has lent itself to that type of relationship.” 
–  Andy Poticha
Why We Use Stipulated Sums

Cannabis Facility Construction uses stipulated sums so that our clients know what they’re getting, and we know exactly what we need to deliver. Our contracts are predictable and easy to manage and benefit our clients in the following ways:

No Hidden Fees

One of Cannabis Facility Construction’s key differentiators is that we never stick our clients with hidden fees, compared to cost-plus-fixed-fee and other contracts. “We don’t charge, as most architects and most contractors do, a percentage of construction,” said Andy Poticha, Principal of Cannabis Facility Construction, on the Cannabis Legalization News podcast. “You have no incentive to finish a job on time and you have every incentive to make it cost more money. We said if we’re truly going to be partners with our clients, we need to have some skin in the game. We’re going to be offering them our process and our intellectual property, and we’re going to say that the project’s going to take this long, and our fee is going to be a stipulated sum based on how long that’s going to take.”

Predictability

Our clients value the predictability of stipulated sum agreements, especially since they reduce risk and give them more confidence. With an agreed upon sum in place, our clients are not liable for any cost overruns. “It doesn’t matter to us if the project is $6,000, $600,000, $60 Million, or $600 million,” added Poticha. “If it takes six months to do, our fees are going to be the same. Our clients understand that we have an incentive to finish it in the time that we’ve agreed to. But just as importantly, we have the incentive to make sure that our client is getting the most bang for their buck without us having the incentive of trying to sell them something more.”

Better Collaboration

We find that stipulated sum arrangements foster a greater degree of collaboration between Cannabis Facility Construction and our clients. We are able to execute tight project management and more efficient communication to ensure that both parties are adhering to the scope of work. “We are very different in our approach to how we look at our clients,” said Poticha. “We have always been client-centric, and what that means is that we want our clients to look at us as their design-build partners. The way we have been set up from inception has lent itself to that type of relationship.”

The design-build methodology supports our goal because it allows us to streamline the construction process, which ultimately benefits our clients and our management team. “We look at every project not as a one-time project, how much money can we make, finish it, and go on to the next project,” added Poticha. “We’re offering our client this partnership so that they can go on and do what they do best, while we do what we do best.”

What’s New for America’s Most Popular Cannabis States?

2019 has been the year of the cannabis plant in the United States. New states have joined the recreational cannabis club, young medical programs are exploding, mature ones are diversifying, and the Northeast is inching along. Here is the latest on the nation’s most popular cannabis states.

Colorado’s Cannabis Program Adds Versatility
Changes are coming to Colorado’s medical and recreational cannabis programs. House Bill 1230 will allow legal social consumption at businesses like dispensaries, restaurants, hotels, and music venues. Home-delivery of medical cannabis can begin in 2020, followed by recreational in 2021 thanks to the passage of House Bill 1234. In response to the state’s opioid epidemic, Governor Jared Polis signed the MMJ for Opioids Bill, which allows doctors to recommend medical cannabis as an alternative to opioid medications. The medical program also added autism to its list of qualifying conditions. Finally, House Bill 1090 opens Colorado’s cannabis industry to out-of-state investors and capital, including publicly held companies and large venture funds. Per Westword, “The bill would also permit investors to own smaller stakes (less than 10 percent) in a cannabis business.”

Illinois Hits a Snag
According to the Illinois Regulation and Tax Act, the state’s 55 existing medical dispensaries would have first dibs at applying for a recreational sales license at the same site, plus a second license for one at a different location. However, recently, The Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, the agency in charge of issuing those initial recreational-use licenses, announced a different interpretation: “…if a medical dispensary wishes to relocate for any reason — whether it’s for more space or if a home municipality bans recreational sales — it forfeits its right to also sell recreational marijuana,” per the Chicago Tribune.

This has created chaos for companies like Green Thumb Industries (GTI), which was awarded a retail license by the state in its Naperville location before the city council opted out of the program. “Naperville’s 6-3 vote on Tuesday, September 3 (2019) marks one of the first major roadblocks for Illinois’ marijuana industry as it prepares for recreational sales next year,” the Chicago Tribune added. “Whether GTI, or any other company, can open a store for recreational marijuana, could be reconsidered by the council after a potential non-binding voter referendum.”

Other municipalities in Chicagoland to ban recreational stores include Bolingbrook and Wheaton.

Oklahoma Medical Cannabis is Soaring

Previously, we wrote about the launch of Oklahoma’s medical program, and nothing is halting its trajectory toward a projected value of $250 million per year by 2025. 

As of August, 2019, there are 162,273 registered medical cardholders, a number that’s been growing by up to 10,000 per month for the last year. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s 4 percent of the state’s total population.

There’s a pretty easy explanation for this success: patients don’t have to meet qualifying conditions, and instead only need a referral from a physician. There are also no caps on dispensary licenses, which is why the current number is over 1,700. Additionally, the barrier to entry is low. According to the Arkansas Times, “The license to grow on a commercial scale or open a dispensary in Oklahoma is a flat $2,500 and a fare thee well, open to any Oklahoma resident who hasn’t had a felony in the past five years. Their law allows cardholders to possess up to a half pound of marijuana, and grow up to six plants at a time. Their law also made possession of up to 1.5 ounces by non-cardholders a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $400 fine.”

Additionally, High Times Magazine put Oklahoma’s cannabis culture on the map when it held its renown Cannabis Cups in Oklahoma City in August.

Massachusetts Social Equity
As more recreational cannabis businesses come online in Massachusetts, the push for social equity is taking center stage. Real Action for Cannabis Equity (RACE) started in Boston in September, 2019 to address the dearth of minority-owned operators. Per Marijuana Business Daily, “Organizers say they’re frustrated that all but two of Massachusetts’ 184 marijuana business licenses were issued to white operators…black entrepreneurs in Massachusetts who say people of color are being shut out of the lucrative marijuana industry are joining forces to close the gap.”

New York Decriminalizes Cannabis
Though New York state failed to pass recreational cannabis during the 2019 legislative session, a last-minute compromise was reached on decriminalization. According to The New York Times,”Under the new law, possessing between one and two ounces of marijuana will no longer be considered a Class B misdemeanor. It will now be a violation, with fines up to $200. Those found with less than an ounce of marijuana will now face a $50 fine, compared with $150 previously.” In addition approximately 160,000 people will have cannabis convictions expunged from their records.

New Jersey Still has a Chance to Pass Recreational Cannabis

The Garden State saga to legalize recreational cannabis is back on. The state Legislature came up short on votes to pass a new law earlier in 2019, but the law-making body isn’t giving up, envisioning two scenarios:

  1. Holding another vote for the bill during the lame duck session at the end of 2019 or the first half of 2020
  2. Putting it on the ballot for the November, 2020 election

Governor Phil Murphy has voiced his preference of passing recreational cannabis through the Legislature versus relying on the ballot box. According to NJ.com, “Such a move would allow leaders to more easily mold and regulate the new marijuana industry. And waiting until next year’s elections means you likely won’t be able to consume weed legally in New Jersey until early 2021, at the earliest.”

Cannabis Extraction: What Exactly Does it Mean?

Cannabis extraction, sometimes referred to as processing, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the industry. In fact, over 50 percent of cannabis sales are concentrates and infused products created by extraction. To give you an idea, Illinois’ medical cannabis program in 2018 saw concentrates and infused products out-sell flower for the first time since its inception. Let’s take a closer look to better understand what extraction entails.

What is Cannabis Extraction?

Extraction refers to the conversion of target molecules in cannabis raw material into a usable form. The process removes the oil found in the trichomes from the cannabis plant and targets and collects the most potent compounds from the plants, including THC, CBD, and terpenes, among others.

Why is it Important?

For one, cannabis extraction creates versatility for products and methods of administration, providing many viable options for consumers. Cannabis extractions are also known as concentrates, and they are stronger than flower, presenting with higher cannabinoid and THC content. According to Maximum Yield, “Extraction is a common practice performed for a number of different reasons, ranging from increasing marijuana’s medical benefits to producing a more potent recreational product.”

What are the Methods of Extraction and Where does it Take Place?

The three most popular methods of extraction are CO2, hydrocarbon, and ethanol. CO2 extraction occurs when carbon dioxide is pressurized in metal tanks until it converts into a supercritical fluid. As MJBiz Daily describes it, “The fluid pulls out the desirable compounds from the flower. The fluid is then separated, leaving only concentrates.” During hydrocarbon extraction, butane or propane dissolves raw cannabis matter and collects cannabinoids and terpenes. “The solvent with the essential oils is then heated up to evaporate off the butane or propane, leaving behind the extract.” Ethanol extraction is performed by soaking raw cannabis in ethanol to capture trichomes into the solvent. “The cannabis is then removed; the liquid is filtered and the alcohol purged from the extracted material.”

The extraction method often depends on the facility. According to Leafly, “Some shops are devoted to CO2-based extractions, others operate mostly on butane-centric machinery, and a few employ machines of both stripes and more. Some will have large-scale machines for extracting cannabinoids—as well as other important cannabis compounds like terpenes—from big batches of flower, and smaller setups that let them conduct experiments on the side.”

“Every step of the extraction process demands a balance of art and science, beginning with the selection of starting material and ending with the purging and storage process.”
What Products are Created from Extraction?

Extractions gives cannabis users options when it comes to consumption. “Entrepreneurs have turned the full power of modern chemistry on cannabis,” according to Leafly. “Their goal has been to find ways to extract the cannabinoids giving the plant its character and effects, providing a way to enjoy the sensations associated with cannabis without having to smoke the actual flower.”

Products in highest demand include:

  • Tinctures: Cannabis-infused liquid in bottles with droppers that are administered sublingually or under the tongue
  • Capsules: Cannabis concentrates ingested orally in capsule form, ranging from single cannabinoid to full-spectrum or strain-specific oil
  • Vaporizer Cartridges: Oil-filled cartridges that connect to a battery that are vaporized
  • Hash: Vaporized, dabbed, or smoked, hash is a pressed concentration of the cannabis plant’s sticky glands
  • Shatter, Wax, and Dabbable Oils: Ingested orally, these are oils refined by a solvent like butane or CO2
Conclusion

Just like with a cultivation and retail business, an extraction facility requires a license to operate. Extraction laws, licensing processes, and regulations vary by state and municipality. That’s the first step, and understanding the intricacies and nuances of extraction comes next. Per Leafly, “The knowledge and care that goes into extracting oils is as complicated as the art of growing the plants they are derived from. Every step of the extraction process demands a balance of art and science, beginning with the selection of starting material and ending with the purging and storage process.”