In July, we sat down with the folks at Digipath, Inc. when they received their testing license in Nevada for the adult use market. In that conversation, they mentioned they were looking to expand into California.
According to a press release published September 25th, DigiPath, Inc. has entered a joint venture to establish their first cannabis-testing lab in California. They will be working with Don Ashley, an experienced real estate developer and cannabis entrepreneur, to launch Humboldt Botanical, LLC, conducting business under the name “Digipath Botanical Testing”.
Ashley says they expect to be fully operational by Q1 of 2018. “We expect to break ground on this project in the next few weeks and hope to be operational in early Q1 2018 just after the state-wide adult-use market is expected to launch, as we have already obtained approval from the local planning authorities for the entire complex,” says Ashley.
Todd Denkin, president of Digipath, is optimistic for California’s market and the coming regulations. “The state of California is estimated to be the single largest cannabis market in the U.S. Adult-use cannabis legislation was approved by California residents last November, and we expect these new regulations to be implemented in 2018,” says Denkin. “The good news for the industry is that the requirements for cannabis testing will be significant, and we are excited to partner with Don and his team to pursue this opportunity in Humboldt County.”
Ashley is contributing roughly $2 million to build and equip the lab with instrumentation, while Digipath Labs will manage and supervise operations at the lab. According to the press release, Digipath will provide a non-exclusive license to use its intellectual property for the operation of the lab. Digipath Labs will retain rights over all the scientific data generated in the lab.
According to Cindy Orser, PhD., chief science officer at Digipath, that data will be put to good use. “Digipath Labs has developed an algorithm for use in strain authentication based largely on terpene profiling from our testing lab in Nevada and we are eager to further test our hypothesis with an expanded dataset from cannabis grown in Northern California,” says Orser.
While testing labs are primarily seen as safeguards for public health and safety, using data to correctly identify strains is a relatively new concept. “Digipath Labs is all about public health and safety through testing for adulterants,” says Orser. “Another component to quality is having confidence in product authenticity at the dispensary level. Not only is the consumer buying quality assured products but truth in advertising when it comes to strain nomenclature.”
Denkin says they were proactive in working toward getting the license early on. “Our partners have been dealing with the local regulators while we have been providing the proper SOP’s for the local government in order to receive the proper licensure in the area,” says Denkin. Taking their experience from Nevada to California, Orser says they have been asked to present to the California Toxicology Association on their experience with cannabis testing in the highly regulated marketplace of Nevada.
The laboratory in Humboldt is going to be part of a “cannabis industrial park,” alongside an R&D facility, oils/concentrate manufacturing center, health and wellness center, distribution and processing facility, tissue culture nursery, hemp clothing outlet, and coffee bistro, according to the press release.
Looking forward to growing their business, Denkin says they hope to launch a lab in Southern California. “We do expect to have a larger footprint in California because of the size of the market and are looking for locations in Southern California as well,” says Denkin. When asked about any new plans to expand elsewhere, Denkin says they’ll let us know. “We are continuing with our business plan and actively seeking the right mergers and acquisitions. Stay tuned.”
Josh Drayton, deputy director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, has an extensive career in local and state-level politics, with his origins in Humboldt County as a political organizer. As a coffee shop owner about ten years ago in Humboldt, he let city council candidates use his space for community engagement, which eventually steered him towards a career in politics. As a heavily involved resident of Northern California and an advocate in local and state matters, he came to understand cannabis as a strong economic driver for the region and beyond.
Drayton saw firsthand how local economies benefit from cannabis as a source of income, economic activity, and providing occupational opportunities for many families in Humboldt County. After running a handful of local campaigns in the Humboldt region, Drayton served as deputy director for a state senate campaign in Riverside.
Towards the end of his tenure with the Democratic Party in California, the state legislature began working on medical cannabis regulations. “As we saw those regulations moving through, cities and counties began to ban cannabis throughout the state, which was a very unintended consequence,” says Drayton. “The goal was to put regulations forward that would create a framework for the industry to survive and function under, but they were not very fond of cannabis at the time. It was clear that we had a lot of work to do.” Politicians shying away from cannabis issues and a lack of real representation in the legislature for those stakeholders drove him to leave the state’s senate for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA).
In January of 2016, he jumped on board with the CCIA as their deputy director. Ahead of the California Cannabis Business Conference, September 21-22 in Anaheim, we sit down with Drayton to hear his take on the future of California’s cannabis regulations.
CannabisIndustryJournal: Give us a quick update on the regulatory framework in California and the changes we should expect.
Josh Drayton: One of the biggest challenges that California has faced has been the reconciliation of medical regulations with adult use regulations. Although California had medical cannabis legalized in 1996, we did not get those regulations put forward until 2015. That was called the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. That was approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor into law. It was created in the legislature. When Prop 64 passed, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in November of 2016, it was passed through by a voter initiative. Any time that a piece of legislation goes to the voters, it trumps any legislation or regulations written by the state legislature. The real work has been to reconcile these two pieces of legislation into one regulatory structure. With that being said, we saw the initial trailer bill, attempting to reconcile these regulatory structures. That trailer bill is meant to address the new framework. Currently, we are waiting for the second viewing of the updated trailer bill SB 94 with all current amendments. Then we are anticipating those in the next couple weeks and we will see the regulations that will affect all these changes by November.
CIJ: How strong will local and municipal control be in the future?
Josh: It is incredibly strong and it is meant to be. I will say that California is like its own country. In Northern California, what they are willing to accept is very different in comparison to Southern California. Every city and county still has the ability to fully ban adult use and they can create and draft their own ordinances and regulations as long as it doesn’t go above state requirements. They can craft an ordinance to fit the needs of their city or county. Lets say you are in a rural area, delivery services might be important for patient access. Some areas might not allow brick and mortar dispensaries, and all that control lies in the cities and counties.
CIJ: Will there be a dosing limit for patients buying infused products? What about for adult use?
Josh: For adult use, there is going to be a limitation. Every edible has a maximum potency of 10mg of THC. For example, a chocolate bar can have a maximum of 100mg [of THC] but must be perforated in to 10mg pieces.
We have been advocating for, and what has been a priority for CCIA, is a lift of any sort of limits on medical infused products. Many patients have a higher threshold or tolerance and they may need 100mg and we don’t want them eating an entire chocolate bar to get that. We are anxiously awaiting the new trailer bill to see if we have been able to lift that concentration limit.
CIJ: Some have said the first draft of lab testing rules is extreme and overreaching. Can you speculate how those have been modified?
Josh: The lab testing is a huge educational issue for the industry and regulators. No state right now has been able to fully analyze the effects of different pesticide levels for a product that is smoked. We are basing all of our standards currently on food consumption. A lot of testing labs are concerned they are unable to test at the state’s threshold for some of these contaminants and pesticides; the detection limits seem very low. The testing portion will take years to work out, I am sure we will remove and add different pesticides and contaminants to the list. But again, the data and research isn’t fully there. There is a big push across the board that we will be able to do more research and testing so that the future of regulations can reflect reality, and ensure that consumer safety is priority.
CIJ: What do you think of the lack of residency requirement? When Oregon lifted it, outside investors flocked to the market. How might that impact local, California ownership and smaller businesses?
Josh: Well I do think that is a concern across the board. That is something that cities and counties have been adding to their requirements for the matrix of items needed to get a license. I think there is a very gray area when looking at investors opposed to operators. At what threshold does an investor become an owner? And if that person is from outside the state, how will that reflect on the evolution of the industry? It is a concern. Keeping limitations on the size of outdoor cultivation might help limit folks from outside the state coming into that arena. After living in Humboldt County for years, and living next to Mom and Pop growers for a long time, I don’t want to see them displaced by businesses coming from another area. We have been doing this a long time and I believe we have the best operators in the world.
CIJ: How is the CCIA helping businesses gear up for changing regulations?
Josh: Well one of our biggest areas of focus is education. Educating our own industry is one of the biggest parts in making sure the industry will be successful in this regulated market. Our legislative committee will take a position of support or opposition, which goes to our board, and those recommendations go to the state. The manufacturing committee has worked very closely with Lori Ajax [director of the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation] and her office, to educate on a variety of areas, guiding the way for state departments on how to properly regulate the industry. We have a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Retail/Delivery, Testing, Distribution and Agricultural committees; across the board our committees create white papers that we submit to the regulatory departments of the state. We take regulatory officials on tours of facilities to get a hands-on view of what they are regulating. They have been speaking with scientists and growers, who often have a better understanding of current industry standards. We see these tours as very helpful. We have brought groups of regulators from LA County, Long Beach, Napa, Alameda and many others on tours of Bay Area commercial manufacturing facilities, dispensaries and nurseries. They have a lot of questions and we want to make sure we are a resource for them. Putting folks in touch with the right people and, in moving forward with this process, in an educated manner. Cannabis is a foreign language to many people and I get that.
CIJ: If you have one recommendation for regulators, what would that be?
Josh: My recommendation to regulators: do not over-tax this industry. Do not make taxation the priority for regulation. Over-taxation will strengthen the illicit market and that is not the goal. We need to make sure the taxes are reasonable to encourage businesses to operate in this market, not in the illegal one. If cities decide to ban, they need to know they can be hubs for illicit activity. Cities with bans might draw the illicit market because illegal operators won’t have to pay taxes or license fees. It is a long play, but responsible taxation is the best path to draw people out of this illicit market. We want to help protect public safety and health, safe medicine, safe products and keep cannabis out of the hands of children.
You’ve heard it in a lot of campaigns to legalize cannabis on a state level and even as the name of a bill in Congress for legalization on the federal level. The Marijuana Policy Project through their campaigns in several states, along with activists, politicians and lobbyists, have used the phrase “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” as a rallying cry to pass legislation reforming cannabis laws. This isn’t an attack on them; those campaign names serve the cause well, moreover it was the name of successful campaigns in Massachusetts, Maine, California, Alaska and Colorado among others. It is a relatable and fair comparison, helping to normalize the concept of adults using cannabis in a legal environment.
But that feeling of validation is short-lived after lawmakers write the actual regulations. In reality, I don’t think a single state can confidently say they actually regulate cannabis like alcohol. Most states do not allow public or social consumption of cannabis; many people that would like to enjoy cannabis in a social setting are restricted to the confines of their home.
Voters in Colorado passed Amendment 64 in 2012 with this language in the very beginning of the bill: “In the interest of the health and public safety of our citizenry, the people of the State of Colorado further find and declare that marijuana should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.” If you look closely, you can see how important phrasing is when it comes to the specific regulations. The key words here are “a manner similar to alcohol,” not exactly like alcohol. That language is critical to understanding how regulators address the double standard.
The most obvious way lawmakers regulate cannabis like alcohol is through a tiered system of license holders: manufacturers, distributors or wholesalers and retailers. Many states might set a limit on potency, just like they do with alcohol, according to Pamela S. Erickson, former executive director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Both of the drugs are taxed and there are usually regulations for both governing the advertising of products, such as preventing targeting youth or encouraging high consumption. Regulators might limit the store hours or locations for both cannabis and alcohol. Beyond those similarities, there are a number of areas where cannabis is over-regulated and alcohol is seemingly under-regulated. It is very possible that much of this has to do with the power of the alcohol lobby. In 2016, the alcohol industry spent over $26 million on lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, nonpartisan group that tracks lobbying efforts. During election season, the alcohol industry spent more than $11 million on campaign contributions. There are several examples of the alcohol industry actively fighting legalization efforts, including paying for anti-cannabis ads in a Politico newsletter and even funding opposition campaigns. While this doesn’t exactly pertain to the regulation of cannabis versus alcohol, it gives you a glimpse of how deep their coffers go and the amount of influence they have on politics.
Last year, the city of Denver passed a ballot measure, Initiative 300, which will legalize the social consumption of cannabis in permitted venues. The Denver Social Consumption Advisory Committee met for the final time last week. That committee designed two styles of permits: one for events and one for established businesses, which would receive a designated consumption area permit (DCA). Those permitted venues must be 1,000 feet from schools, child-care centers or drug rehabilitation centers. They need a waste plan, compliance with the Indoor Air Quality Act and they cannot sell cannabis products. Rachel Gillette, attorney in the cannabis law group and shareholder at Greenspoon Marder, says the legal implications of the initiative are still up in the air. “This was a step in the right direction,” says Gillette. “You can’t pass a law to regulate marijuana like alcohol and then say people can only use it in their home. You are going to run into problems like people smoking on the street. This is why this initiative was introduced.”
The general idea here is B.Y.O.P.- bring your own pot. They cannot have a liquor license, the location cannot be accessible to the general public, they have to submit a detailed security plan and patrons have to sign a waiver to get in, according to Westword. Signing a waiver to get into a bar should seem asinine to anyone, but I have been to some dive bars where a waiver could’ve definitely been useful. The point is that cannabis doesn’t lead to violence or destructive behavior, alcohol is the drug that does that. There is plenty of evidence to support that, including a comparative risk assessment of the drugs, which found alcohol’s danger to be strongly underestimated previously.
Senate Bill 63 in the Colorado State legislature would have been very similar, issuing licenses for “marijuana consumption clubs.” However that bill was voted down last Thursday, largely due to the uncertainty of federal policy, according to ABC News.
Amendment 64 also has specific language saying you cannot consume cannabis in a public space, but that is not exactly the case with liquor, even when you consider open container and public intoxication laws. “In my previous interactions with the state and particularly the liquor licensing authority, they consider liquor-licensed premises to be de facto public spaces but you can’t consume cannabis there, which is why hotels, bars and restaurants explicitly prohibit cannabis consumption, they have a liquor license,” says Gillette. “There is a bit of conflict in the law here.”
Yet other rules, such as mandatory childproof containers for cannabis retailers, seem a bit draconian compared with buying a bottle of twist-off wine from the grocery store. “Childproof packaging isn’t required in liquor stores anywhere,” says Gillette. “Why cant responsible adults be trusted to keep it out of a child’s reach? Unfortunately there is a lot of trepidation to allow responsible adults to be responsible when it comes to cannabis.” In some ways, we are seeing states begin to regulate cannabis very closely to how they would alcohol, yet there is a long way to go. “There is still this nanny state mentality where we run the risk of regulating it to the point of absurdity,” says Gillette. For now at least, we need to be cognizant of the age-old stigma and work to normalize social cannabis use in a legal sense. Until that time comes, we will have to tolerate lawmakers regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, not exactly like alcohol.
Members of Congress last week announced the formation of a ‘Congressional Cannabis Caucus’ in order to organize and affect cannabis policy at the federal level. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Don Young (R-AK) announced the creation of the caucus on February 16th. Cannabis advocacy and drug policy groups were quick to commend the formation of the organization.
In a joint statement issued on Friday, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, Americans for Safe Access, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, and Clergy for a New Drug Policy expressed commendation and excitement for the new group. “We commend Representatives Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, Polis, and Young for their leadership on the issue of cannabis policy,” reads the statement. “The establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use.”
The members of Congress that formed the caucus all represent constituents in states where cannabis is legal for medical and adult use. “The formation of this caucus is a testament to how far our country has come on the issue of cannabis policy,” says the joint statement by the drug policy reform groups. “We look forward to working with caucus members to translate this growing public sentiment into sound public policy.” According to their statement, 44 states so far have adopted laws effecting cannabis prohibition on the state level, representing 95% of the U.S. House of Representatives and 88% of the Senate.
Representatives Blumenauer and Rohrabacher have been prominent cannabis policy reform advocates in the past. Blumenauer supported the bill to legalize adult use cannabis in Oregon back in 2014 and Rohrabacher introduced the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment to Congress, which prohibits the Justice Department from spending money on interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
According to an article on Roll Call, Blumenauer says the caucus will focus on more medical research and the tax and banking regulations hurting cannabis businesses.
Update: With 100% reporting (589 of 589 precincts), voters in Maine passed Question 1, legalizing recreational cannabis by a very narrow margin of 50.2% to 49.8% (378,288 in favor and 375,668 against is a margin of only 2,620 votes)
Voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada passed ballot initiatives legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, creating huge new markets for the cannabis industry overnight. Voters in North Dakota, Florida, Montana and Arkansas passed ballot initiatives to legalize forms of medical cannabis. Voters by a margin of 52.2% to 47.8% rejected Arizona’s Proposition 205, which would have legalized recreational cannabis.
With 100% of the votes in for Maine’s Question 1, voters narrowly passed legalizing recreational cannabis, the polls show it won by a very slim margin, less than 3,000 votes.
New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research released an Election Day update to their growth projections for the cannabis industry by 2020. The release projects: “The legalization of cannabis in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota will result in new markets that account for $7.1 billion in sales by 2020. We project the overall U.S. cannabis market will exceed $20.9 billion by 2020.” Those numbers include overall cannabis sales and assume the markets are all fully operational by 2018.
According to Giadha DeCarcer, founder and chief executive officer of New Frontier, there is overwhelming support for medical cannabis and a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis as well. “The ten initiatives on the ballot reflect the accelerating public debate on legal cannabis access,” says DeCarcer. “The passage of California’s adult use measure and Florida’s medical initiative expand legal access into two of the country’s most populous states.” The market potential is notably enormous in California, it currently being the 6th largest economy in the world. “Additionally, the passage of the measure in Massachusetts opens the first adult use market in the Northeast extending the reach of legal adult use access from coast to coast,” says DeCarcer. “The passage of the measures in Arkansas and North Dakota shows that public support on this issue is not solely confined to urban, liberal markets but extends into conservative rural states as well.”
According to the release, by 2020 California could reach a total market size of $7.6B and Massachusetts could grow to $1.1B. Massachusetts being the first mover in the Northeast to legalize recreational cannabis will be watched very closely by a number of surrounding states that appeared bullish on cannabis legalization previously.
Leslie Bocskor, president and founder of Electrum Partners, believes the Election Day results will bring an influx of investing opportunities to the industry. “We are going to see a diverse approach from the irrationally exuberant to the sophisticated and experienced investor and entrepreneur getting involved, creating businesses and investing in the industry that will create innovation, jobs, wealth and tax revenue far beyond the consensus expectations,” says Bocksor. “The cannabis industry is more than one industry; it is an entire ecosystem, impacting so many verticals, such as agriculture, industrial chemicals from hemp, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and more. We see the funding of innovation that might have been absent without the velocity and heft that has come from this phenomenon,” adds Bocksor. As these newly legalized markets begin to launch, it will require a considerable amount of time to see the industry flesh out in each new state.
Donald Trump winning the presidential election and the GOP retaining control over the House and Senate could mean a lot of uncertainties for the future of the cannabis industry on a national scale. President-elect Trump has previously flip-flopped on the issue of cannabis legalization, but has said in the past he favors leaving the issue of medical use up to the states, advocating for access to medical cannabis, while recently saying he opposes regulating cannabis for adult use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The MPP gave him a C+ grade for his views toward cannabis.
On The O’Reilly Factor in February 2016, Trump told the conservative political commentator that he supports medical cannabis while opposing the recreational use. “I’m in favor of it [access to medical cannabis] a hundred percent. But what you are talking about [recreational use], perhaps not. It’s causing a lot of problems out there [in Colorado],” says Trump. It is still unclear at this time exactly what Trump’s policy will be for the now 28 states that have some form of legal cannabis.
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), appeared optimistic regarding the outcomes of Election Day. “More than 16 million voters, including in two of the three most populated states in the nation, chose legal, regulated cannabis programs that promote safety, boost the economy, help sick patients and address social injustices,” says Smith. In the press release, the NCIA spelled out their priorities for congressional action on cannabis policy: Opening up bank access for state-compliant cannabis businesses, ending the effects of federal tax code Section 280E on cannabis businesses and removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act via descheduling. “Last night’s results send a simple message – the tipping point has come,” says Smith.
California’s tradition of social and political experimentation has made it the national leader in areas ranging from environmentalism and social justice to technology. Now it is poised to make the same far-reaching transformations in the cannabis industry.
As one of the world’s top ten economies and the nation’s most populated state (having a population of 38 million), California could propel the decriminalized recreational cannabis industry to $6.5 billion in 2020, according to a report by ArcView Group and New Frontier.
At the same time, California is in the process of moving from state to local zoning control, as far as issuing the OK to become licensed, effective Jan. 18, 2018. This means collectives and dispensaries have to obtain local approval before they receive a state license. It also puts greater pressure on gray market operations to become licensed.
On the regulatory front, the state is also heading toward a historic vote in November 2016 in the form of Proposition 64. This will open up the customer base to all Californians. It has a similar licensing path as the medical regulations the Governor signed last year, except it allows vertical integration between growers and dispensaries, which is not allowed under the medical regulations, except in very limited circumstances.
“My bet is the demand will outweigh the supply for a while and the legal cannabis businesses that are licensed by the locals and have their supply chain in place will end up profiting,” says Andrew Hay of Frontera Accounting, a cannabis-focused CPA firm based in California under the umbrella of the Frontera business group.
A Huge Market Awaits
If the Adult Use of Marijuana Act passes and is enacted by 2018, the state’s legal cannabis sales are projected to hit $1.6 billion in their first year, the ArcView and New Frontier market report said. Even without the new expanded legislation and working amid a fractured medical cannabis regulatory environment, California now accounts for about half of all the legal cannabis sales nationwide, according to the report.
At the same time, the state is well positioned to capitalize on new technology and financing from Silicon Valley in terms of human talent, money and the applications of new technology in both the medical and recreational sectors. One driving force will come from the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which mandates that 10 percent of sales tax collected on cannabis sales be re-directed towards medical research and drug abuse programs.
In addition, according to Marijuana Politics, the expected tax windfall is slated to be divided up among a variety of programs: $10 million to public universities, $10 million to business and economic development, $3 million to California Highway Patrol and $2 million for medical cannabis research at UC San Diego. The remainder will be divided between youth drug education and prevention (60%), environmental protection (20%) and law enforcement (20%).
This flow of new funds is expected to propel research into biomedical and applied research, as well as nutraceuticals, or products derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. The driving new ingredients in these products will be derived from cannabis.
Consolidating the Recreational and Medical Markets
Californians will vote in November 2016 to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis. This vote will have serious repercussions since it could mean that the delineation between medical and recreational markets will disappear.
“Should California vote to legalize recreational use this November, we expect implementation of a combined regulated market as soon as 2018,” says Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors. Karnes says a merged California market is significant, not only because of its sheer size (it represents about 55% of the U.S. market), but also because it “would mark the first state to implement regulations for a fully legal market without initial oversight of medical use purchases. This could serve as a catalyst for similar action in Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine which will also vote to fully legalize cannabis this November.”
In the report, “Mid Year Update: The Metamorphosis of the U.S. Marijuana Market Begins,” the firm said it projects cannabis sales in the U.S. to hit $6.5 billion for 2016. The firm forecasts that by 2021, revenues should reach about $30 billion. This assumes that marijuana will be legal in all 50 states to various degrees. The firm also notes that this year’s election choices can potentially generate $4.2 billion in incremental retail revenues by 2018 and $5.8 billion by 2021.
The Impact on Branding, Music and Culture
As the nation’s culture manufacturing center for films, TV and music, the cannabis business is also expected to shape artistic direction for years to come. Jeff Welsh is a partner at Frontera, a business group that holds a suite of services including the Frontera Law Group, Frontera Advisors, Frontera Accounting and Frontera Entertainment, which is headquartered in Sherman Oaks with a specific focus on the cannabis industry. Welsh says he sees more partnerships between the cannabis industry and mainstream entertainment outlets. Welsh recently signed Chris Sayegh, the herbal chef who uses liquid THC to create elegant restaurant-quality food, in a deal with the United Talent Agency. This marks a cultural breakthrough that links the cannabis and culinary industries.
Because Los Angeles is the largest market, this cultural nexus is expected to contribute more new alliances between celebrity branding and cannabis products.
Luke Stanton, founder and managing partner of Frontera, also said less stringent regulations in the cannabis legal environment could find their way into the regulations and laws of other states that often adopt California laws as templates for their own state. “We have seen this happen in other areas, such as environmental and criminal justice, so it would not be surprising to see our state regulations and policies being enacted in states nationwide, and even in some countries outside of the U.S.,” Stanton says.
California has also been the site of innovative marketing efforts between cannabis patients and growers. The Emerald Exchange held in Malibu, was the first event in cannabis that allowed a direct conversation between Northern California cultivators and the Southern California patient community. According to Michael Katz of Evoxe Laboratories, a California cannabis product manufacturer, “Often the farmers don’t have a chance to really engage with patients, and we wanted everyone to be able to come together, discuss practices, provide information and ultimately support the entire ecosystem of the cannabis community.”
Caveats for Investors
While the California market looks very attractive, it may be the siren’s call for investors until issues related to finding solid companies and taxation are settled.
Since more operations will have to become fully compliant with state regulations, these businesses will face more significant expenses to meet security, taxes, licensing fees, accounting and reporting operations requirements. This could drive smaller operations out of business or force them to become more efficient.
In addition, California’s huge potential and changing regulatory environment is attracting large growers into the state that will compete with smaller, established operations. According to Jonathan Rubin, chief executive officer of Cannabis Benchmarks, these regulations affecting commercial growing vary greatly by municipality. For instance, Mendocino and Humboldt counties have enacted measures to protect local growers, while other counties have not, Rubin says.
In addition, cannabis wholesale prices have been falling due to changes in cultivation methods and variations in supply.
Andrew Hay, a CPA at Frontera Accounting, believes investors should make sure there is a solid plan behind any cannabis company investment. “I’ve seen significant money thrown behind ‘cannabis brands’ with no substance,” Hay says.
“In these cases, the winners are the growers, manufacturers, distributors and dispensaries that are licensed (or are in the process of getting licensed), who pay their taxes and have a successful track record. I wouldn’t invest until you see the underlying operational structure, their tax/regulatory compliance and financials that prove there have been sales,” he says.
Another major problem for investors lies in the IRS accounting regulations. “The biggest hurdle I see facing the California cannabis business is the IRS / IRC 280E, which only allows cost of goods sold deductions. Every cannabis business should be planning their operations around IRC 280E, as there is no way to legitimately survive in the cannabis industry without doing so,” according to Hay.
“IRC 280E is here to stay regardless of California legalization. It is up to the Federal government to fix this issue, which I don’t see happening any time soon. Every cannabis business should hire a CPA and business attorney that work well together to devise a cost accounting strategy to minimize IRC 280E and its impact. Without this, an investor’s profits can go up in smoke to the IRS,” Hay says.
The Supreme Court shut down a lawsuit on Monday brought by two states against Colorado for its recreational cannabis laws. Nebraska and Oklahoma brought the case to the Supreme Court, claiming that the recreational cannabis industry in Colorado is responsible for the illegal exportation of cannabis outside of Colorado. “Colorado has facilitated purchase of marijuana by residents of neighboring states by issuing licenses to an unusually high number of marijuana retailers perched on Colorado’s borders,” the two states told the court in a supplemental brief.
In that brief, the two states argue that Colorado’s cannabis industry led to more cannabis illegally crossing state lines. They argue because of that influx of cannabis, they spend more on law enforcement and state resources, which is a detriment to their citizens. The Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for why they refused to hear the case.
Many view this as a big win for the legal cannabis industry. “The Supreme Court has protected the will of the people today and I believe the court has demonstrated that it understands legal cannabis is a fundamental right,” says Andy Williams, president of Medicine Man, the largest cannabis dispensary in Denver.
Still others see this simply as business as usual. “While I’m pleased to see the Court reject the challenge to Colorado’s cannabis law, this decision isn’t really a win for cannabis advocates- it only maintains the status quo,” says Aaron Herzberg, partner and general counsel at CalCann Holdings, a medical cannabis holding company specializing in real estate and licensing. “We are struggling with diversion in California, so hopefully states will continue to be on track to create a more regulated and taxed environment where cannabis can be manufactured and sold through channels where it is safe and tested,” continues Herzberg.
Adam Koh, chief cultivation officer at Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), warns that the Court’s denial to hear the case is not necessarily an affirmation of state’s cannabis programs. “It is evident that some diversion is taking place, which of course is against the provisions of the Cole Memorandum,” says Koh. “In order to avoid being implicated in such activities, legally licensed cannabis businesses in Colorado should not take the SCOTUS decision as a signal to relax, but should instead work to make sure that inventory control and record-keeping protocols are in place and even exceed the standards required in state regulations.”
The fact alone that Nebraska and Oklahoma even brought the case to the Supreme Court means that diversion is a major issue facing the cannabis industry. “Only by going above and beyond in terms of compliance will this controversial industry make itself credible in the eyes of its detractors,” says Koh. Some cannabis industry leaders take it upon themselves to help guide rule makers in crafting standards.
Lezli Engelking, founder of the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), believes the Cole Memo is currently the best guidance for states and business owners to follow by the federal government in regards to cannabis. “Gaping holes in cannabis regulations are glaringly identified via the pesticide issues and recalls recently,” says Engelking. “These issues showcase each state being in violation of the Cole Memo’s expectation that they will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that address the threat to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests.”
The Supreme Court’s denial of the two states’ challenge to Colorado’s cannabis legislation suggests the federal government’s intentional avoidance of involvement in current state cannabis issues. The government’s inaction does not, however, indicate their support.
With 2015 coming to a close, to understand and start strategizing for the next year, we must look back on the year and gauge the industry’s progress. A lot has happened this year and there is a lot to look forward to in 2016.
Nic Easley, founder and CEO of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), gave a presentation at the High Times Business Summit last week, reviewing the cannabis industry’s progress in 2015, and providing some insights on what to look for in 2016. 3C is a national cannabis and hemp consulting firm dedicated to ensuring the highest standards in large-scale, sustainable organic production and product manufacturing. Over the past eight years in Colorado and nationwide, Easley has helped more than 60 clients design, build, start up, and optimize their operations. Easley is an active participant on multiple committees in various industries, non-profit groups, and rule making organizations that are setting the standards and regulations guiding this industry. Through his involvement he is able to promote sustainable, sensible practices and policies that drive cannabis cultivation and industry best practices into new realms of productivity, profitability, and professionalism.
We were able to sit down with Nic Easley after the conference to get some better insights for how the industry performed in 2015 and what is in store for 2016.
CannabisIndustryJournal: How do you think Colorado’s year of pesticide recalls will help shape the industry’s future?
Nic Easley: As a member of the Pesticide Advisory Committee with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, I think there is a tangible need for better, more comprehensive regulatory guidance. If we come out with strict pesticide regulations, it will be better for everyone in the industry and consumers, but more importantly it will benefit patients gaining access to safe, laboratory-tested medicine. The regulators will need our help to write the rules. Harder laws are good for us though, because the ethical businesses will always take the route of integrity, as opposed to the businesses that cut corners. Those companies not playing above board will be weeded out and reprimanded in due time. A lot of it comes with the responsibility as a grower and producer to facilitate medical needs, that is a responsibility that requires great integrity. As for the testing regulations, there are too many conflicts of interest and we need to look toward third party testing and accreditation to prevent laboratory shopping, skewed results and other inconsistencies. We need to not allow producers to provide their own samples, sampling and sample preparation needs to be controlled through third party laboratories working above board, as opposed to labs wanting to keep clients instead of providing accurate and consistent test results. Looking forward to 2016, we will continue to see the pesticide issue shape the industry, for better or worse, this is a problem we need to find the right solutions for and that comes through working with regulators, like the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, to write the required regulatory framework.
CIJ: Looking nationally, what major trends were highlighted in 2015 and what would you like to see change for 2016?
Nic: With Oregon going online October 1st, and Maryland’s license application process opening up, we are recognizing some diminishing barriers to entry in markets previously difficult to tap due to things like residency requirements and where the capital came from. Maryland’s infused product and processing licenses are much more readily available as opposed to the cultivation licenses due to stipulations. States like Oregon and Alaska that dragged their feet a little with regard to their regulatory model, are just releasing a lot of barriers to entry for licensing applications. Oregon may have missed some tax revenue in the initial launch of the program, but they are doing it right through diligent research instead of using their citizens as guinea pigs. For businesses looking to get started, you can avoid poor decision making by knowing the rules. New and established businesses alike need to take the responsibility to write the rules to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible. If we want to make money in this industry to help the government’s role in keeping us safe, then doing business in the most socially responsible way possible will lead to profitability. What I would like to see change for 2016 is the expanding list of qualifying conditions. As a military veteran, I would like to see Colorado stop looking at the tax revenue of adult use cannabis, and make PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The Bob Hoban lawsuit suggests that Colorado is marginalizing medicine because they will make more tax revenue by blurring the lines of adult use and medicine. All of the studies out there, including Dr. Sue Sisley’s work, suggests PTSD can be treated with medical marijuana. That highlights another trend I would like to see change in 2016: We need clinical research on these conditions, because observational research just is not credible enough. We [businesses in the industry] need to actively promote the need for clinical research to help propel social change and get the information and knowledge out there. With the right information, this industry can make informed decisions that will help all stakeholders.
CIJ: What advice can you offer to cannabis businesses for 2016?
Nic: I tell my clients that, because cannabis is still federally illegal, you must understand the present risk associated with the work you are doing. We need to ask questions like how can we do this responsibly and set a good example so when the time comes, the federal government will look to us as a legitimate industry, working with regulators to write the rules for safety. For new businesses, produce the safest, highest quality, and affordable medicine and work with other businesses and regulators to keep innovating in the area of safety. Focus on the structure of your business: build your foundations and using expert advice, you can avoid major pitfalls and become the leaders in this brand new industry. Look for environmentally sustainable solutions, climate change issues need to be addressed in this industry. Use appropriate technology instead of burning coal to grow marijuana, which increases our carbon footprint. This includes both environmentally sound standard operating procedures and the right technologies, but also social justice. We are presented with a terrific economic opportunity to work on climate change issues, so work to address inefficient practices and innovate to be as sustainable as possible.
CIJ: For the entire cannabis industry in 2016 , what kind of growth do you expect?
Nic: We have reached a point where I foresee a holding pattern beginning to take shape. In 2016, the industry will continue to grow and demand will not be satiated by supply. August of 2015 was the first month when Colorado saw over $100 million in sales. We will increasingly see more price fluctuations as bigger projects come online. Many states in 2016 will focus on problems with their regulatory models and devising solutions for them. Businesses will continue their strategic growth planning, with key states potentially coming online for adult use such as Nevada and California. Nevada is one of the most up and coming markets in America with a 68% approval rating, and they have the ability to grandfather in businesses and previous rules associated with their medical marijuana program. Knowing licensing applications can take eight to eighteen months before you can become operational, we have to place our bets wisely. There is a lot happening in all these states and from the big November votes on, chaos will ensue as regulators tackle big problems with the overhaul. In 2016, the cannabis industry will make a big impact on the United States, and the exciting part is that progress is made through business as usual for us.