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Marijuana Matters

A Guide to Documentation and SOPs for Start Ups

By David C. Kotler, Esq.
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As your company grows, or whether you want to have certain documentation to make an application for licensure and/or for outside entities looking to invest, it is necessary to handle issues from a documentation standpoint. Learning how to handle situations with staff through proper employee manuals and how to establish and practice standard operating procedures can help businesses avoid common pitfalls with a little forethought.

Beginning with standard operating procedures (SOPs), there are many resources available to get assistance in crafting them. You can consult with individuals such as safety content producers, business consultants, lawyers, technical writers, and even borrowing SOP writers from other industries. I am aware of a Connecticut producer who tapped pharmaceutical SOP writers as consultants with the focus of establishing their standard operating procedures. I am not convinced that there is any proper person or method by which an entity may want to consider an SOP. As a threshold, however, it is important that a proper format is created, i.e., simple steps, hierarchical steps format or perhaps even a flow chart format.

One would want to consider the audience who will be reading the SOP and the information to impart to that audience. It is also important to consider SOPs that you want to update as practices evolve or change.

It is possible to create SOPs internally, and frankly, this may be the most recommended route. If the SOPs are being used for guidance and not just to support the license application process, this is particularly important. It is a time-consuming task and if created from the inside out, it can be most effective.

It is possible to get lost in the minutia by documenting every step taken within a particular process. I have seen SOPs number in the hundreds just for cultivation and processing operations. One particular entity in Colorado created over 63 SOPs within the past year. If you are writing your own SOPs, it is important to understand the scope and applicability, i.e. why a particular process is performed and how it is used, then the procedures and/or steps that are necessary to accomplish that particular process, clarify any terms that are necessary so that the reader is able to follow the steps throughout a particular outline, cover health and safety issues, address equipment and supplies and provide emergency procedures.

The process that I can attest to as being fruitful is interplay between an employee who is actually responsible for a given task and a third party looking from a 1000-foot view. For instance, have the employee who completes a number of tasks within the organization provide a list of what they do on a general day-to-day basis. From that list, have the third party extrapolate what topics might be covered, often times borrowing from other well known standard operating procedures that are seen across industries and come up with a master list of the SOPs which are desired. It is important for the employee and third party to collaborate to finalize SOPs.

Employee guides or manuals provide information on benefits, when time sheets are due, paydays, holidays, vacation days, sick days and more. For employees, it helps mitigate risk by providing guidelines for conduct, discipline, and local practices in the states in which you operate. Employee guides are most effective when they are created to match your company’s needs. When it is tailored to your company, you are certain that the policies meet the laws of the places where your offices and employees are located. It allows you to provide input so you can ensure that you have developed policies that your company will follow. Unwritten policies are unwise as they may cause issues and can potentially lead to lawsuits. There are three types of multi-state employee guides: a guide with favored nations status, meaning that the most liberal laws in one location apply to the entire organization; an employment guide for each location in which you operate; or you can create one guide with a local practice section.

Creation of employee guides is a time consuming and arduous practice, but once completed, they help guide the relationship between employee and employer. Employees should review the employee manual and sign off upon receipt and review. This will serve to protect the employer in the future should an issue covered by the manual arise.

An effective employee guide might include (but certainly not be limited to) the following:

  • An “employment at will” disclaimer
  • An anti-harassment policy
  • An internal grievance procedure
  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
  • Employee benefits
  • Paid time off (vacation, personal days, sick leave)
  • Unpaid leaves of absence
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (for employers with more than 15 employees)
  • Jury duty, military leave
  • Hours of work
  • Introductory/probationary period
  • Legally mandated language concerning pay deductions
  • Proper E-mail/Internet usage
  • Professionalism/dress code
  • Drugs in the workplace
  • Social media policy

There are many other policies that would be included in order to comply with requirements that might be mandated by a particular regulatory scheme i.e. security compliance. The guide should be a living, breathing document that evolves over time based on new knowledge, changes in laws and business fluidity.

Both standard operating procedures and employee manuals or guides are integral to the viability of a cannabis related business whether a hands on the plant license holder or an ancillary company. I encourage my clients to craft self-created content that they have invested their time and knowledge into, with some help where necessary. Purchasing forms online does not provide a workable format and will only lead to problems in the future. You get what you put in and creating these documents internally and from the ground up gives more control to the business.

New Business Accelerator Program, Greenhouse Ventures, Completes Pilot Semester

By Aaron G. Biros
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There are a few business accelerator programs that currently exist in the cannabis space, but Greenhouse Ventures (GHV), based in downtown Philadelphia, seeks to fill a gap in helping ancillary businesses get off the ground. Through a ten-week, 90-hour curriculum, program, Greenhouse Ventures assists startups by increasing their business model sophistication.

Bart Mowrey, founder & CEO of TokerWare in December on the 'Demo Day' in Center City Philadelphia
Bart Mowrey, founder & CEO of TokerWare in December on the ‘Demo Day’ in Center City Philadelphia

“The program consists of three hour sessions, three nights a week, for ten weeks, covering topics such as general business development, go-to-market strategy, growth strategy, capital formation, legal & financial due diligence, fundraising, valuation, and exit opportunities,” says Tyler Dautrich, founder of Greenhouse Ventures. Business startups in the program are paired with industry experts who serve as mentors providing advice, guidance and strategic introductions.

The program culminates in a pitch event where the startups are given the opportunity to pitch potential investors and advisors in an effort to strategically advance their business model. According to Dautrich, Greenhouse Ventures’ overall mission is to increase the level of business sophistication of ancillary startups.

Courtney Rudolph, founder & CEO of Green Seven, in December during the program in Center City Philadelphia
Courtney Rudolph, founder & CEO of Green Seven, in December during the program in Center City Philadelphia

They differentiate themselves from other startup accelerators like Canopy Boulder and MJIC’s Gateway by using a curriculum-driven program. Participants in the accelerator work closely with GHV staff, industry services providers and industry experts to learn exactly what they need to secure capital and get their business to the next stage.

Tyler Dautrich, founder of Greenhouse Ventures
Tyler Dautrich, founder of Greenhouse Ventures

According to Dautrich, Greenhouse Ventures also differs from other accelerators because they are not an investment fund. “We do not invest any capital into any portfolio companies at this time,” says Dautrich. GHV does however invest $60,000 worth of services into each portfolio company and only takes an average of 5% common, non-voting rights, stock. “The goal is for the companies in the accelerator to validate some, if not all, their initial assumptions and prove that the company can progress without that capital infusion” adds Dautrich. “This serves as a great due diligence process for potential investors.”

Graduates of GHV and CoPhilly Fall 2015 semester
Graduates of GHV and CoPhilly Fall 2015 semester

The program successfully completed its pilot semester in December of 2015 with three ancillary businesses in the cannabis industry. The second semester will launch this Spring in the end of April and Greenhouse Ventures will be accepting up to 10 ancillary companies for its second semester. The application window is currently open for the spring semester.