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.
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.
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:
- Holding another vote for the bill during the lame duck session at the end of 2019 or the first half of 2020
- 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.”
With cannabis going mainstream and now firmly established as the fastest growing industry in America, business owners and state officials are partnering to create more opportunities for public consumption. Unlike with liquor at bars, restaurants, clubs, etc., one cannot legally purchase cannabis and use it onsite. So what gives? Public or social consumption of cannabis has been viewed as anathema by local governments, especially since it clashes with clean air ordinances. The tide is turning, though, as in the last few months a handful of states have passed new laws allowing licenses for cannabis lounges and other social spaces where consumers can legally consume products.
Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) signed new regulations into law in March of 2019, issuing permits to businesses authorizing onsite consumption. The so-called “special onsite use endorsement” stipulates that consumption areas need to be physically separated from retail spaces, either by a wall and a secure door or an outdoor patio. The onus is on business owners to provide security plans and adequate ventilation. As is the case with most public consumption programs, local governments in Alaska will have the authority to prohibit onsite use outright or to tighten restrictions, including limiting consumption to vaping only.
The birthplace of social cannabis lounges in the U.S., California, is expected to open many more in the next couple of years. San Francisco leads the way with the most cannabis lounges, but recent legislation coming out of Los Angeles County will make municipalities like Los Angeles and West Hollywood the next leaders. LA county has been fielding social cannabis business applications since January of 2018, and West Hollywood changed codes and zoning regulations to allow public consumption in certain cafes and smoking lounges, and recently Assembly Bill 1465 was introduced that will allow smoking, vaping, and eating edibles.
“Another big move: West Hollywood will allow chefs to infuse cannabis into pre-planned and on-demand menus for onsite customers at new restaurants,” according to Forbes. “As the cafes come online over the next 12 months, West Hollywood will have more than double the number of cafes and lounges of any other city.”
Colorado is the latest state to pass public consumption. House Bill 1230, set to take effect at the start of 2020, establishes regulations for retail stores to set up social consumption lounges, as well as allowing for mobile and temporary licenses. This means that businesses like music venues, art galleries, yoga studios, restaurants, and hotels can obtain public consumption permits and licenses for limited cannabis sales. There’s also a pathway for awarding temporary licenses for special events.
Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division will process licence applications and serve as the state’s regulatory board. Per High Times “Like any industry’s regulatory requirements, businesses will still have to clear a few hurdles before they can let customers light up. First, business owners and cannabis advocates will have to convince local governments to opt in to the new law. Otherwise, the state won’t award a public consumption license. House Bill 1230 also gives local governments the authority to tweak the rules for public consumption. Towns could, for example, only approve certain forms of consumption.”
The Illinois Cannabis Regulation & Tax Act includes an exemption to the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which prohibits outdoor smoking, allowing cities to determine if they want to permit on-site cannabis use at lounges, bars, restaurants, and other places of business. For now, the state is leaving it up localities to opt in or out to public consumption. The City of Chicago is weighing its options. “The regulations around on-site consumption have not yet been finalized,” said Lauren Huffman, a city spokeswoman in an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times in September, 2019. “We are taking the initial step of introducing zoning regulations so we can start to give businesses certainty around where dispensaries will be located. We have not yet made final decisions around where and how on site consumption will be regulated, but are having ongoing conversations with our partners in the industry, the community and the City Council around the best way to regulate the practice.”
Nevada’s recreational cannabis programs began in 2016, and now public consumption licenses will be granted. The Las Vegas City Council in May 2019 voted to allow existing cannabis businesses to apply for permits to open consumption lounges. Clark County Commissioner and former state senator Tick Segerblom, who is also considered Nevada’s cannabis ambassador, told the USA Today Network, “We’re the new Amsterdam. That should be a concern to gaming companies. They’re concerned about (lounges) making money outside the hotels. They’re worried the longer this goes outside hotels, the more established they’ll get. As a business person, I would be concerned too.”
While Las Vegas cannabis businesses hope to cash in on weed tourism, the gaming community wants to wall off its hotels and casinos. The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which has taken a conservative stance on cannabis, brokered a compromise with the city to create a 1,000 foot buffer between gaming establishments and cannabis lounges.
According to msn.com, “After the city builds an application, 20 dispensaries – already open or forthcoming in Las Vegas this year – can apply for licenses to open lounges prohibited from selling alcohol. The ordinance excludes dispensaries on The Strip, which is controlled by Clark County, not the city of Las Vegas, as well as Henderson and North Las Vegas.”
The new trend of public consumption is expected to expand, especially with new states like Illinois passing adult use programs. Oregon, currently a medical and recreational use state, appears next on the horizon. If passed, Senate Bill 639 would require the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate social consumption businesses and event spaces, allow for the sale of cannabis in these clubs, tasting tours on farms and expanded legal cannabis delivery into private and temporary residences.
Previously, we wrote about the essential staff of a cultivation facility, and now we turn our attention to dispensaries. Cannabis employment is exploding, and 2019 is projected to be a banner year for new-hires. The most in-demand jobs in medical and recreational markets are dispensary positions because these mostly customer-facing staff provide the greatest opportunity to interact with the general public.
Consumers enter a dispensary for a transactional and educational experience with the expectation of receiving quality customer service. They survey the products, interact with staff, and either buy or take a pass. It sounds simple, but behind the counter and the scenes it’s much more complex, and it starts at the top with the general manager. This crucial position oversees all functions and operations of a dispensary from interacting with vendors, dealing with law enforcement, and managing inventory to handling returns and of course, hiring, managing, and training budtenders and other staff. Certain medical dispensaries require general managers to be physicians, nurses, or pharmacists.
Budtenders play a critical role in creating a positive customer experience.Consumers, especially those new to cannabis, have lots of questions: What’s the difference between indica and sativa? What strain do you recommend for this or that? How is CBD oil different than oil with CBD and THC? What are tinctures? Budtenders spend the majority of their days working face-to-face with customers and providing knowledge and advice about cannabis products.
Cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the country, expanding at an annual rate of 28 percent and expected to reach a value of $146 billion by 2025
There are efforts on the federal level to ease banking restrictions on cannabis businesses, most notably the States Act, but cannabis still remains a cash-only business. As such, dispensaries need physical security to protect assets while not scaring off customers. “While security is a tough game, you don’t want to set a tough tone between your security guard and cannabis consumer,” according to Marijuana Retail Report. “Work with your security staff to ensure that they embrace and understand the customer experience you are developing in-store. Since they are the first point of contact, ensure that they are helping consumers feel welcome and invited, yet are able to maintain a zero-tolerance stance on any customer activities that could present a perceived threat to your dispensary, staff and other customers.”
Cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the country, expanding at an annual rate of 28 percent and expected to reach a value of $146 billion by 2025. To keep up with the demand, not only does more product need to be cultivated, but it has to be sold to consumers. It takes the skill and knowledge of essential dispensary staff to keep these businesses running.
Cannabis Legalization News – Thomas Howard Podcast Featuring Andy Poticha
Tom Howard: It’s clearly 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, and so it’s cannabis legalization news time. We’ve had a huge week in cannabis legalization news. Illinois became … hey Miggy … what number is it?
Tom Howard: 11. The big number 11, and we also have a guest joining us. It’s Andy Poticha. Say hi, Andy.
Andy Poticha: Hello.
Tom Howard: Awesome. Well, we’re going to round up the news, and then Andy is going to discuss with us his unique knowledge about something that’s so hot right now. The cost of getting into a cannabis cultivation facility in Illinois. They’re called, The Craft Grows or a dispensary, but first, I think the biggest news of the week was of course that JB Pritzker signed it into law. Now, it’s number 11, but there’s been a lot of other really cool federal news, and Miggy have you heard anything on the west coast? Is there anything that you’re working on for weednews.co.
Miggy: No. Not me, per se. I mean state-by-state has been great also with New York and Texas and Ohio, but those are all more medical and one is decriminalization. The Banking Act.
Tom Howard: The Banking Act. I’m actually going to present to everybody, that’s another thing. So FinCEN did just release, and says that FinCEN publishes these on a quarterly basis, but of course it takes them a little bit of time to get the actual date. This came out this past week, and it’s current as of April 1. When the quarter ends here in about a week for June, these numbers will be updated and then FinCEN will publish that in another couple of months.
Tom Howard: But you can see the sharp uptick right there. Q3 2018. Basically JB Pritzker won, and then maybe this was also some New York thing. They don’t really publish those, but this is the number of banking institutions that are lending to marijuana. Interestingly enough, the thing that you see when you are lending to marijuana a lot, and hopefully my screen was on there, is –
Miggy: Hey, Tom.
Tom Howard: They file nondisclosure agreements and all that other stuff to kind of keep it secret, but this uptick, and a fairly large uptick according to the number of banks that are actually banking cannabis, somewhat corresponds to the stuff that’s been coming out of Congress. This is a really fresh news. This is from the Marijuana Moment, just from like a half hour ago.
Miggy: Oh nice.
Tom Howard: Right. And if you’re not familiar with what’s going on in the federal level, especially when it comes to banking and cannabis, it has to do with two things. One is the defunding of the war against marijuana for everything, not just medical, but state law marijuana. Second is the continuing pushing of the Safe Banking Act, placing it into the funding bills itself. As we get up the fiscal cliff, the fiscal cliff happens every year September 30 because that’s when the federal budget actually ends. The budget that will be passed that will continue to fund, that’s how hemp was legalized. That’s how the first war on marijuana was defunded back in 2014, through Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment just for the medical. It looks like the budget for 2020, plus Illinois going open for business, will really signal it’s time to go. It’s time to lend to cannabis businesses, and I would not be surprised if New York next year legalizes it. I think 2020’s going to be the biggest year for cannabis legalization ever. What about you, Miggy?
Miggy: No, I totally agree, especially since the House agrees to protect the legal states. That’s a huge step towards legalization, like you said. Just like jury nullification but in a financial way of how to attack prohibition.
Tom Howard: There’s jury nullification. That’s great, but you’re already being prosecuted. You’re on trial. Imagine if you could just stand up during a trial and be like, “Excuse me, Your Honor. There’s no money for this trial.”
Miggy: Yeah, yeah. That’s for sure. Defunding the war on drugs. I think that’s the best way to put it. FYI, when you had the chart on the screen, on YouTube, I was a predominant screen.
Tom Howard: That gets back to, I really need, and if anybody’s out there that is majoring in YouTube, and also social media SEO and has a paralegal degree, I will hire you because I am doing this all myself. And it’s sad. Somebody could be managing this, and then I could get back to work for the clients, which are just blowing up my phones. It’s going great, but that’s one of the reasons why we brought our guest on. He has actually designed and built cannabis facilities in Illinois. Andy.
Andy Poticha: Yes?
Tom Howard: How many of these facilities have you built?
Andy Poticha: In Illinois, we have completed four dispensaries and one cultivation, and are working on one cultivation and another dispensary at this point. That’s just in Illinois. We’ve been doing work in other states outside of Illinois as well. We’re working on our 8th state, actually.
Part 1 of our Success Story focused on the historical journey of the restaurant bar that became the focal point of the Greenhouse Dispensary in Morris, Illinois. The story continues below, detailing how Cannabis Facility Construction fulfilled The Greenhouse’s vision of converting the Rockwell Inn into a dispensary, while honoring the restaurant’s legacy as a source of community pride.
Not a Traditional Design-build Project
Converting a restaurant into a dispensary presented many challenges, including:
Earning the Trust of the Community
One of the biggest questions we faced was: How do we create the optimal retail space that is focused on the client while preserving the history of the old space? For us, a true partnership revolves around the trust and buy-in from all stakeholders. We were sensitive to the fact that we were introducing a new industry and purveyor to this jurisdiction. Showing respect for the community helped us achieve the buy-in we needed.
Wear and Tear
Given the age of the restaurant facility and its use, it was hardly in the same condition as buildings we previously worked with. For starters, it was a large, free-standing property with multiple additions created throughout its history. Some areas had concrete floors and others, wood floor joists. Often we’d encounter rotted wood and other material deterioration. Compared to a retail space, restaurants have unique issues like grease, dirt, and rodents that we don’t encounter when remodeling, for example, a clothing store inside of a strip mall.
We determined that the lot sat below street level, and consequently, the sewage had not been pumped into a lift station. We discovered that over the years, the restaurant only had band aids in place to address the problem.
Reclaiming the 150 Year-Old Bar
We had to figure out how to make this beautiful, legendary bar functional for staff and valuable to the customer experience. It now serves as the centerpiece of an open and comfortable space where visitors interact with budtenders and learn about the products.
Leveraging Our Trade Partners
We used a talented group of trades and suppliers to complete the project. Across the board–from plumbers, electricians, and millworkers to heating, flooring, life safety, HVAC, security and sprinkler system specialists – our trusted partners played key roles in the renovation.
It All Comes Together
The result of our renovation is 5,200 square feet of usable space, outfitted with an inviting waiting area and an open and comfortable shop with the reclaimed bar as its hub. Understanding, learning, and operating in buildings that are 50-150 years-old is where we cut our teeth. The whole idea of opening up walls, making discoveries, and maximizing value for our clients is what we live for. We’ll give the last word to Mitch Kahn, CEO and founder of Grassroots, a national leader in medicinal cannabis, and the parent company of Greenhouse: “It really is just a neat building with character that we wanted to keep, from the tin ceiling to the bar that’s over 100 years old, and retrofit it to our purposes. We saw the promise of remodeling an old building and turning it into a modern facility.”
At the conclusion of many a cannabis customer’s journey is consumption of the product. Whether that method is smoking, vaping, ingesting, or topically applying the product, how it arrived on or in your person traces back to the cultivation facility where it was farmed, grown, and groomed. Dispensary shelves and display cases are bedecked with flowers, oils, extracts, shatter, edibles, and more, but none of that exists without cultivation. Canna-business is the fastest growing sector in the country due in large part to the essential staff of cultivation facilities.
Master Grower and Junior Grower
A successful cultivation operation starts at the top with the master grower, whose credentials include backgrounds in horticulture or agriculture and often advanced degrees. Also known as director of cultivation, this person is not only responsible for overseeing the cultivation of all cannabis plants, but managing the entire operation of the facility. They are in charge of all grow house employees and must routinely ensure that the facility is in step with regulations. It may not stop there.
As CNBC reported, “At larger operations, cultivation directors have management responsibility for a team of growers, and the position typically requires frequent interaction with law enforcement to ensure compliance.”
A junior grower or a master grower-in-training, works directly under the tutelage of the master grower. This person is primarily responsible for successfully growing the plants. Duties include planting, cloning, feeding, and proper watering.
They call it a plant-touching niche for a reason. Trimmers have direct contact with cannabis plants, and their job is to prune and manicure the plants during harvest season without harming them. Trimmers are tasked with understanding the plant anatomy and the difference between strains. The job requires physical endurance and concentration. “Bud trimmer is an excellent entry-level job,” writes James Yagielo of Hemp Staff. “It’s a great way to break into a marijuana cultivation career with plenty of room for upward mobility.”
The function of processing or converting the raw materials of cannabis into usable forms, may take place under the same roof as cultivation, especially with companies that practice vertical integration. Extraction falls under the processing umbrella and is the method for turning cannabis buds into oils and concentrates for vaping. The Director of Extraction typically has a solid background in pharmacology or chemistry and designs and runs processing, including laboratory functions and the management of extraction staff.
Cannabis employment increased nearly 700 percent between 2017 and 2018 and is projected to grow another 220 percent in 2019. Legal cannabis was a $9 billion industry in the United States last year and will balloon to $21 billion per year by 2021. Cultivation is where everything begins thanks to staff with the unique skill set to make it happen.
If a bar’s walls could talk, you could imagine the stories it would tell. The secrets, truths, tales, and a mix of all three from patrons, bartenders, cooks, and other staff remain trapped under layers of paint, trying to escape unsuccessfully through the cracks. But every now and then, there’s a special bar with a classic design, heft, and durability that embarks on an epic journey. It’s the kind of bar you see once in 125 years, about to celebrate its Quasquicentennial. It doesn’t need to rely on walls to tell stories because the bar is the story.
This bar’s story is told in four acts, beginning in the big city of Chicago in the late 19th Century and continuing down-state to this very day.
Act 1: The Origin
When you consider the bar’s roots, it makes sense that it was destined for longevity. Anheuser Busch Co. commissioned the bar in 1882, which was designed and built by Brunswick Balke-Collender. The TIMES-PRESS of Streator, IL, described it as, “…a splendid oak and brass structure with intricately carved detailing that measured 14 feet high by 30 feet long and featured 13 electrified gas lights with three sections of mirror and colonnades. The front bar had a copper foot rail and a marble base.”
Anheuser Busch was impressed enough to display the bar at The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 where it resided in the company’s pavilion for the Fair’s year-long run. When the Fair concluded, sponsors of the exhibits sold displays and showpieces. A barkeep by the name of John Trapp purchased the bar and had it transported by Anheuser Busch’s famed Clydesdale horses some 100 miles away to the small industrial town of Streator and placed in his saloon, Trapp’s Tavern.
It’s the kind of bar you see once in 125 years, about to celebrate its Quasquicentennial. It doesn’t need to rely on walls to tell stories because the bar is the story.
Act 2: Trapped
At the time, Streator had a prolific coal and manufacturing industry and was known as a midwestern railroad hub. Business was good at Trapp’s Tavern, located on Main Street, and the new bar, fresh off it’s run at The World’s Fair, attracted many patrons. According to the TIME-PRESS, the one beer served was Anheuser Busch, and one story reports the kitchen cooked only roast beef sandwiches, while another adds navy bean and chicken noodle soups, and ham sandwiches. Every account, though, notes, “One of the pieces Trapp purchased with the bar was a ‘women’s room’, which was a 15-foot by 15-foot oak and glass walled cubicle where women sat waiting until their men had their fill in the saloon.”
Act 3: Moving Inn
After an 82-year run, the legendary Trapp’s Tavern went out of business, but the allure of the bar grew stronger. Much like the previous century all those decades ago, a new face purchased the bar and gave it a new home. On June 27, 1976, Victor Anderes of Peru, Illinois bought the bar at auction for $26,000. Trapp’s Tavern and the renowned bar went out in style, as an estimated crowd of 200 people from as far as California, Colorado, and Florida gathered for the event. Anderes, a restaurateur, moved the bar to his new business, the Rockwell Inn in Morris, Illinois, 38 miles to the north east.
Recognized more than ever as a marvel of craftsmanship and utility, the bar was installed as the focal point of the new space. Anderes paid homage to its history, naming the room it resided in “The Columbian Exposition Lounge”, while defiantly renaming the former “Women’s Room” the “Not for Women Only” room. The bar even survived a major fire in 1985 because it was somehow shielded from the flames by the tin ceiling that collapsed on it.
Act 4: Greener Pastures
In 2013, the Rockwell Inn shuttered its doors, presumably ending the bar’s intrastate historical journey. This time there were no post-World’s Fair buyers or auctioneers, bidders, or Clydesdales to move the bar to its new home. Finally, the bar had succumbed to its final chapter.
Or so the city of Morris thought.
The forces of change, innovation, entrepreneurship, and nostalgia are powerful enough to revitalize a relic. On August 1, 2013, Illinois enacted the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. In 2014, Chicagoland-based Grassroots Cannabis launched and soon engaged Cannabis Facility Construction to design-build its new Greenhouse dispensary in Morris, using an existing space once called the Rockwell Inn. Converting an old restaurant into a medical cannabis dispensary would present many challenges, but one thing was crystal clear: that sleeping, history-weary bar would make its greatest comeback yet.
McCullough, D. (1987) ‘World’s Fair flavor found in old bar furniture’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 29 July
(1983) ‘Main Street Trapp’s has long history in Streator’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 12 May
(1976) ‘Purchases Trapp’s Bar For $26,000’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 28 June
The cannabis industry had a banner year in 2018, highlighted by Canada becoming the second country to pass national legalization, the Farm Bill lifting restrictions on the commercial farming of hemp, and more states expanding their recreational and medical cannabis programs. Unfortunately, the intersection of innovation and growth has been tainted by cyber attacks. Notably, the Ontario Cannabis Store, an online retailer and wholesaler, and Denver-based software firm, MJ Freeway, experienced major data breaches. We’ve discussed security best practices for your dispensary, and now we examine how to safeguard your cannabis business from cyber threats.
Have an Airtight Point of Sale System
The hardware and software combination that centralizes your business operations makes POS systems prime targets for hackers. The data stored in POS systems contain valuable and sensitive customer, employee, inventory, and operational information. Invest the time with your POS vendor to fully understand security coverage used to protect your data, their servers, and the privacy of your patients.
“There is an enormous incentive for hackers to target our young and immature industry…”
Ensure all Integrated Systems are Secure
While POS systems are one entry point for hackers and ransomware, so are the openings created by integrated systems. Cannabis businesses often use POS, Business Management, and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems together. It’s a best practice, but it also provides hackers with a low barrier of entry into your data. Protect vulnerable business data by sealing any security gaps during the integration process.
Hire an Independent Cyber Security Expert
Go all in by hiring a third party to ensure security across the board. If recent history is any indication, cannabis businesses will continue to be vulnerable to data breaches–leaking tax records, social security numbers and citizenship information–that can have devastating bottomline and reputational impacts. The right cyber security provider will not only ensure compliance, but also proactively protect your customers and investment.
Burgeoning cannabis businesses recognize that with great success comes great risk. In the race to ensure regulatory compliance and business growth and sustainability, protecting your operational data must be a top priority. Dr. Moe Afaneh, COO of BioTrackTHC, sums it up nicely: “Cannabis businesses are literally gold miners [sic] in the sense that their software data will define the future of this industry and their success. There is an enormous incentive for hackers to target our young and immature industry, which is why the last thing you want to do is make it easy for them.”
The green rush is on in the Sooner State.
Oklahoma–renowned for its once harsh possession penalties–is now a land of opportunity for medical cannabis businesses. Among the nation’s most progressive medical cannabis programs, Oklahoma has hit the ground running in only six months and is light years ahead of other states delayed by stagnating legislation.
One of Oklahoma’s greatest differentiators is its reciprocity program that allows patients with out-of-state medical cannabis cards to qualify for renewable, temporary licenses.
The Oklahoma medical cannabis market could realize $250 million in annual sales in its first few years. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, more than 2,200 business licenses had been issued, with an approved patient pool of more than 24,000 as of December, 2018. This speed-to-market is attributed to the fact that SQ 788 bypassed a special legislative session likely to have imposed restrictions, but instead prioritized patient-needs to get immediate access to cannabis treatments. The result is that there is no limit on business licenses, and doctors are free to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any condition they deem appropriate. In addition, the program is all-encompassing, prohibiting municipalities, cities, or counties from opting out.
High Retail & Wholesale Prices
Though there’s no cap on business licenses, supply is tight and product demand high, which is good news for dispensaries. Patients are lining up en masse for the state’s program, creating premium value for inventory. An ounce of cannabis flower, for example, averages $400, double the cost of Arizona’s medical cannabis market. Cultivation is prospering as well, with wholesale prices averaging between $3,500 – $4,500 per pound–at least twice that of competing markets.
One of Oklahoma’s greatest differentiators is its reciprocity program that allows patients with out-of-state medical cannabis cards to qualify for renewable, temporary licenses. They cost $100, are valid for 30 days, and permit patients to purchase, use, and even grow cannabis in Oklahoma. This provision is especially enticing for Arkansan customers as a stopgap while that program ramps up.
Some industry insiders caution that the possibility of over-cultivation and low prices will drive down retail and wholesale prices as it’s happened in other markets. Still, with so much success in its nascent stage and the evolution of regulations, Oklahoma may find a way to stabilize supply, increase demand, and sustain momentum.
Processing or cannabis extraction is emerging as a promising growth area for cannabis businesses, opening opportunities for vertical integration. Scientific and technological innovation are taking extraction to new heights, converting the raw material of cannabis into a cornucopia of usable forms. Christian Sweeney, Director of Science and Technology at Cannabistry Labs, which develops top-of-the-line extraction methods, identifies processing as one of the four pillars–along with cultivation, analytics and biochemistry–for developing the optimal cannabis process. It’s only natural that integrating processing into your cannabusiness has many advantages, including the following:
Vertical integration creates self-sufficiency for cannabis businesses and can help reduce costs. Businesses that grow, process, and sell their product may reduce their dependence on suppliers or other third parties. Colorado Springs-based Strawberry Fields, for example, makes its own products, including vape pens, edibles, and lotions. They are initially contracting with a processor until they obtain the proper equipment, which can change as they incorporate distillation into their services. Strawberry Fields budgets around $3 million annually for processing fees but will spend $200,000 on equipment to bring the function in-house.
“A well-designed cannabis process goes far beyond just extraction, overlapping heavily with cultivation on the front-end and product development on the back-end.”
Diverse Retail Opportunities
Cannabis products processed and sold onsite have the potential to become a game-changer for the industry. Similar to the farm-to-table restaurant concept, some dispensaries have added kitchens staffed with culinary personnel and food scientists, who are extracting compounds and producing edibles, oils, waxes, shatters, and more. The Mint Dispensary in Tempe, Arizona launched the country’s first full-service cannabis kitchen in October, serving the medical cannabis community. Acres Cannabis recreational dispensary in Las Vegas takes it a step further, featuring a 2,000 square foot open-view kitchen that houses its edible production and cannabis extraction operations. Customers observe the process of removing cannabinoids and terpenes from flower to create cannabis oil, and can buy the product off the shelf.
Better Quality Control
Integrating processing and cultivation at the same site can open the door for better quality control. Well-engineered facilities monitor each piece of equipment and instruments through a Building Automation System or a Direct Digital Controller. These systems provide alerts when a room or piece of equipment is not operating within the programmed specifications or range of tolerance. If both functions are located in one space, the Director of Facilities can supervise operations more efficiently.
The Bottom Line
Cannabis businesses have to keep track of many moving pieces in the name of compliance, growth, and sustainability. Integrating processing into your cannabis business can help you stay ahead, and as Sweeney notes, “A well-designed cannabis process goes far beyond just extraction, overlapping heavily with cultivation on the front-end and product development on the back-end.”