7 Key Takeaways from Cannabis 2017

Departments - Upfront | Highlights

A look at Cannabis Business Times’ inaugural cultivation conference in Oakland, Calif.

May 1, 2017
Holly Woolard
The keynote panel featuring (left to right): Thomas Schultz, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions; Brooke Gehring, FGS Inc.; Debby Goldsberry, Magnolia Wellness; James Ott, Precision Cultivation Company; Jesce Horton, Panacea Valley Gardens.
Photos by Marc Longwood Photography

Cannabis Business Times’ inaugural Cannabis 2017: Cultivation Conference, held March 20-22 at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, Calif., featured a who’s who list of industry experts, and drew more than 850 cannabis professionals for educational sessions and trade show exhibits.

Cannabis 2017’s educational programming spanned a wide array of cultivation-specific topics, such as “Creating a Winning Application,” to “Ways to Increase Yield,” “OSHA Compliance: Why and How to Prepare Now” and “Commercial Facility Design,” and additional sessions regarding automation, standard operating procedures (SOPs), cannabis metrics and commoditization, and much more.

The exhibit hall featured automation control solutions, as well as greenhouse and structures companies, a plethora of lighting and nutrient options—and several networking breaks and receptions for members throughout the supply chain.

Here are 7 takeaways from the three-day conference:

1. Growing Your Business

Tim Cullen, Colorado Harvest Company.

The session titled “Expanding Your Cultivation Operation” featured Crystal Oliver, co-founder and president of Washington’s Finest Cannabis. An advocate turned cannabis entrepreneur in Eastern Washington, Oliver stressed the importance of not just knowing local officials, but making sure they know you. She said coming out about being a cannabis farmer is critical.

Leif Abel, co-founder of Greatland Ganja, LLC, made the trip from Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. In September 2016, Abel and Greatland Ganja were responsible for Alaska’s first commercial harvest, which would not have happened without participation in the state’s lawmaking. Abel agreed with Oliver about participating in local government.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to be involved,” Abel said. “It takes legwork to get hooked into the bureaucratic system.”

Networking during the cocktail reception in the expo hall.

Nic Easley, founder and CEO of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting, spoke directly to up-and-coming growers. “It’s more than ‘Let’s grow some weed,’” Easley cautioned. “You have to grow your entire business. You have to be forward-looking. Before you go out, have a business plan.”

Some tips were basic, but deserve repeating: “When you get those emails, you have to read them,” Oliver suggested. She wasn’t kidding.

“I keep a close eye on emails I receive from my county commissioners, for example, because land-use regulations have impacted many cannabis farmers in this state,” Oliver said in an email interview after the conference. “They send out weekly meeting schedules, agendas, minutes and other materials. I personally review all of these each week because if marijuana or cannabis are mentioned, I want to know what was said; and if marijuana-related regulations are going to be discussed, I want to make sure I am present to listen, answer questions, provide testimony and organize opposition if necessary.”

2. Naming Conventions

Panelists (left to right) Addison Demoura, Steep Hill Labs; Paul Daley, Ph.D., Essential Medicinals; Kenneth Morrow, Trichome Technologies (and Cannabis 2017 chair); and JD Harriman, Arent Fox.

According to Debby Goldsberry, executive director of Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness dispensary, who participated on the “The State of the Cannabis Market” keynote panel, retailers and cultivators need to stop using trademark names—immediately.

“Can people stop using trademark names to name their cannabis?” Goldsberry posed. “You wouldn’t believe how difficult this is in the industry right now. We just got a cease and desist letter from the Girl Scouts of America about Girl Scout Cookies being on our menu. It’s illegal—you should know it. All they have to do is look up your online menu.”

After receiving the letter from the Girls Scouts, Goldsberry said Magnolia Wellness began checking out everything it had on its shelves and discovered other potential trademark infringements.

“It runs so deep,” Goldsberry said. “So please help us get through this and insist people rename their strains.”

3. The Application Process

Jay Czarkowski, founding partner of cannabis consultancy Canna Advisors, offered four tips when applying for a cannabis license:

  1. Surround yourself with good people. (This suggestion came up many times during the conference and should be a standard operating procedure.) The team you put together and their relevant backgrounds are essential to a successful application.
  2. Make sure your business and financial plans are in order.
  3. Convey how your business benefits the community, especially patients, if applying for a medical license.
  4. Remember to answer every question on the application. This may sound obvious, but it is a common mistake applicants make.

4. Don’t Fear OSHA

Carlos Campos, founder and CEO of C&H Auxiliary Safety Management, Inc., and Luke Tipton, a safety consultant from Milestone Safety Group, led the session entitled “OSHA Compliance: Why and How to Prepare Now.”

Speakers Carlos Campos (left) of C&H Auxiliary Safety Management and Luke Tipton of Milestone Safety Group spoke on preparing for “OSHA Compliance.”

While safety regulations may seem overwhelming or even a bother, Tipton reminded attendees that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) expects all employers to be compliant. “It’s the employer’s responsibility,” he said.

Campos added, “You should not fear reaching out to your local OSHA organization.” An OSHA consultant’s mission is to help employers with compliance. Consultants are available to help businesses become compliant, not to enforce the requirements.

“The only way that safe and healthy products get to patients is through safe and healthy workplaces,” Campos said.

According to a handout from C&H, there are four key considerations regarding workplace injuries and why employers should make safety a priority:
  1. The financial costs are enormous. (This includes potentially hefty OSHA fines, worker’s compensation payments, medical expenses, disability costs and legal services.)
  2. Injuries and illnesses in the workplace have indirect costs as well, such as time supervisors need to investigate the accident and overtime to make up for the injured employee.
  3. Major costs can be involved in filing an insurance claim, from handling unfamiliar paperwork to ongoing reviews.
  4. It’s extremely difficult to measure all the hidden costs.

5. Cannabis as a Commodity

“Cannabis is already a commodity,” said Jonathan Rubin, CEO of Cannabis Benchmarks. “It’s just a matter of where we are on the curve.”

This benchmark company relies on validated production cost data and standardized price assessments to determine wholesale prices today and into the future. This brings transparency and efficiency to cultivators, dispensaries, investors, traders and other market participants.

Rubin pointed out the cannabis market has several levels of predictability: seasonality for outdoor growers; changes in laws, such as legalized adult-use; and holidays, including 4/20 (April 20).

He shared details from Cannabis Benchmarks’ U.S. Spot Index for January 2016 through August 2017. In 2016, wholesale prices climbed to $2,059 in May, and fell to $1,414 in November. Cannabis Benchmarks expects a pound of cannabis to hit $1,575 in summer 2017.

6. Greening Your Grow

David Bonvillain of Elite Enterprises (and Cannabis 2017 advisory board member) received a standing ovation during the panel “CBD: Past, Present and Future.”

Sustainability is not only good for the earth, but also can save you money. Derek Smith, founder and executive director of the Resource Innovation Institute (RII), spoke on the session, “Ensuring a Competitive Future: Tools for Constructing a Profitable and More Environmentally Sustainable Facility.”

The Oregon-based RII was created to help cannabis growers reduce their natural-resource footprints. “

We want to influence the way the industry moves forward,” Smith said.

Smith offered tips for cultivators for improving the resource efficiency of their facilities, many of which were based on RII’s Competitive Facility Checklist. Here are a few tips from the session, which he summarized in an email following the conference:

  1. When designing a facility, blend your business goals with objective advice about what mix of technology and process decisions work best in your climate zone.
  2. Lighting often starts a cascading effect on building systems, so make the most efficient decision for each use in each room. Ask for data verified by an independent photometric lab on the following topics: Fixture wattage, Photosynthetic photon flux, PAR photon efficacy, lighting uniformity and safety. Also, explore passive solar strategies (e.g., glass roofs, skylights).
  3. HVAC and dehumidification systems are critical for indoor, greenhouse and drying/curing settings. Look for opportunities to recapture condensate, recycle heat and integrate passive strategies like adjusting timing on lighting and installing high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans.
  4. Water efficiency and discharge/runoff offer a range of opportunities, from establishing SOPs to minimize water waste to metering all cultivation water use to rainwater harvesting to filtration and integration of low-flow and gray water techniques in non-cultivation areas of your operation. The big goal is to recapture and reuse as much water as possible while maintaining water quality.

7. Flower Power

The ornamental flower industry’s influence on cannabis, including growers and auxiliary businesses that support traditional agriculture, was in full bloom during the conference.

Session rooms seating several hundred attendees were packed throughout the three-day cultivation conference.

Attendee Gerald Goldberg, a fourth-generation flower grower from Nipomo in Central California, said he has convinced his family, which owns Skyline Flower Growers, to begin converting some space to cannabis. Goldberg said that from a money-generating perspective, 4 acres of cannabis equals 100 acres of flowers.

Goldberg was right at home on the trade show floor. “I know a lot of the exhibitors from [the ornamental flower industry],” he said.

Cannabis 2017 provided an overall optimistic and positive environment of information sharing for industry members from across the North American cultivation industry—including cultivators, business executives, investors, grow teams, vendors and more.

Holly Woolard is an award-winning writer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A longtime sportswriter, she covered the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney for Gannett News Service. She’s also written about adventure travel, from the Grand Canyon to New Zealand, and business travel, from Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong.