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 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.
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 Westword, Paragon 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
Earlier this year, Politico published a story on the outbreak of fires and explosions at Cannabis extraction facilities. It documented 10 incidents over the last five years where hash oil was being extracted. The reporting shed light on the risks involved in the process: “Extracting hash oil from cannabis is dangerous because typically it requires pouring highly-flammable butane or some other volatile solvent into a cannabis-filled pipe,” according to the story.
These accidents, sometimes deadly, serve as a cautionary tale for one of the fastest growing industries in the country. As Politico notes, “…labor unions complain that state governments are moving too swiftly to license producers, outpacing the states’ ability to inspect production facilities for potential safety violations.”
In the rush to keep up with the demands of growing markets, cannabis facility owners need to take a step back and ensure they have safety protocols in place. This is especially challenging for two reasons: 1) safety compliance is determined at the state level since cannabis remains federally illegal, and 2) “Most of the states where marijuana is legal offer no safety and health guidance for the new industry,” according to Politico. “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which researches work-related injury and illness, has conducted only two hazard evaluations of legal marijuana facilities, neither of which focused on the extraction of hash oil.”
“Even in those states that do offer safety and health
guidance — Colorado, California, Michigan, Oregon,
and Washington — fire safety officials complain that
worker safety protections are often inadequate.”
Still, business owners can educate themselves and their employees by engaging with their local fire department so that they are in step with fire code, permitting, and inspections.
Speaking of which…
Seek Permits and Inspections
Mark de Souza, CEO of Chicago-based Revolution Enterprises, recently warned of the pitfalls of the cannabis industry’s growth outpacing regulation. “I have long thought the best way to help Illinois citizens deal with this change is to ensure the industry grows in tandem with the state’s ability to regulate it,” he wrote in Crain’s Chicago Business. “And by ‘regulate it,’ I mean ensure that its use remains safe…Creating a new and unregulated market overnight—in a business that some citizens find unusual and scary—seems the easiest way to ensure its failure.”
An area related to this concern is acquiring the requisite permits and scheduling routine inspections to protect facilities. In the last year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) updated its fire code to address these issues. Per Politico “The revised code requires any hazardous hash-oil extraction process to be performed in a non-combustible room, in a building that contains no child or health care facilities. Staff must be trained on safe operation of the extraction equipment, and the extraction room must be equipped with a gas detection system and multiple fire extinguishing systems.”
Utilize a Closed Loop System
Cannabis or hash oil extraction via a closed loop system is the safest method. Compared to open blasting, which uses flammable solvents, closed loop systems contain these in extraction cylinders. Open blasting, dangerous as it is, is not uncommon and has resulted in devastating accidents. In June of last year, an extraction facility in Millcreek, Utah exploded, and two people experienced severe burn injuries in Sonoma County, California while extracting hash oil by open-blasting. Closed loop is only safe if strictly adhered to. Marijuana Venture advises following the manufactures’ instructions for equipment to a T and being vigilant about every detail, like routinely tightening bolts on extraction cylinders.
Don’t Do it Yourself
Some cannabis facility owners and operators skirt safety and compliance checks to be operational faster. In addition to obviously violating the law, this can create hazardous conditions, especially where electrical systems are concerned.
“Where necessary, hire a professional,” advises Marijuana Venture. “Building, fire and electrical codes must be followed. Don’t overload the electrical panel. Don’t steal power from a nearby building. Be careful with wall construction. Pay attention to door sizes. And perhaps most importantly, everything should be properly permitted.”
Cannabis businesses are on notice and have suffered financial and legal consequences. California and New Mexico’s occupational safety and health agencies issued fines of $50,470 and $13,500, respectively, against a cannabis manufacturer and processor for explosions that occurred at their facilities. Felony charges were brought against an Oregon business owner whose employees sustained burn injuries following an incident.
In addition to NFPA’s increased efforts, labor groups in states considering cannabis legalization are advocating that labor peace provisions requiring marijuana processors to ease the path to unionization be incorporated into legislation. Other states like Rhode Island and Arizona are weighing making extraction against the law altogether. Either way, there are enough resources and education to mitigate the risks of fire at your cannabis facility.
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.”
Four years ago, Mosaic Construction entered a new vertical in construction as we jumped feet first into the cannabis industry as a result of one of our loyal client asking for our help. Mosaic had previously built retail spaces and when we were approached to complete three design/build projects for their cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, we learned very quickly how fast the market was growing (pun intended!)
Cannabis Facility Construction was created to brand our efforts in the cannabis industry. We have grown to a nation-wide, industry leading design/build construction company. We have worked with design professionals to create unique spaces for our cannabis clients and have completed twelve Dispensary, Cultivation and/or Processing projects in six states totaling over 140,000 square feet. We have a loyal client base and have expanded our reach and talents within the cannabis industry to provide quality and highly functional facilities within this booming sector.
We are proud, sponsoring members of the National Cannabis Industry Association which represents nearly 2,000 member-businesses and tens-of-thousands of cannabis professionals. NCIA promotes the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry where they believe “Our industry is stronger, smarter, and more prosperous when we work together.” Recently, we attended the Midwest Quarterly Cannabis Caucus which is the premier B2B event series for making meaningful connections with the cannabis industry’s leading executives and policymakers while also getting the tools we need to advance the cannabis industry nationally. Recently, we spent a few days in Anaheim, CA at the California Cannabis Business Conference, the only industry association trade show preparing California cannabis businesses for success in the largest adult-use market in the world. The California Cannabis Business Conference unifies the Golden State and brought together seasoned industry leaders to convene on best business practices and operations.
Later next month, the Cannabis Facility Construction team will attend the MJBiz convention in Las Vegas. This event is the preeminent conference to drive business deals and forge valuable connections with cannabis professionals in business today. There will be over 20,000+ cannabis professionals and 1,000+ exhibitors attending. It is the networking event for anyone serious about networking in the cannabis industry.
To learn more about Cannabis Facility Construction, check out www.cannabisfacility.net.