More than 850 cannabis professionals gathered March 20-22 at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, Calif., for Cannabis Business Times’ inaugural Cannabis 2017: Cultivation Conference for three days of educational sessions and trade show exhibits.
During Day 2’s keynote panel, “The State of the Cannabis Market,” industry leaders Brooke Gehring, Jesce Horton, Tom Schultz, Jim Ott and Debby Goldsberry presented a candid discussion about what business owners can do to move the industry forward, starting with getting more involved.
“Something that I would suggest to all of you is being at the table, being a part of the discussion,” said Brooke Gehring, the CEO and owner of Colorado-based FGS, Inc., a vertically integrated operation serving the medicinal and adult-use market. “It’s very important that stakeholders’ voices are heard.”
Tom Schultz, president of Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions, said his medical marijuana production and research firm relies on awareness of the positions held by federal and state agencies and courts to advance its cause.
“What helps us the most is taking a very proactive approach,” Schultz said. “Each year, we are sure to explain to our regulators, to our banks, to any politicians who are interested, what’s happened to the industry, what’s relevant and how those parties might want to think about us. By doing that, it really pays dividends to us in terms of our ability to manage our own destiny.”
The panelists said that being proactive takes many forms, from banking to representing community interests to building relationships with like-minded business associates. Providing transparency is also a critical element of working with outside partners.
“It always starts with one key principle: You walk into a bank and you tell them exactly what you’re doing,” says Debby Goldsberry, executive director of Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness dispensary. “‘I’m a marijuana business, and I’d like an account.’ And if you don’t do that you’re already violating the law.”
Goldsberry said understanding legislative initiatives and what it takes to be compliant are critical.
“Develop a relationship with the president and be able to explain the regulations,” Goldsberry said. “The bank doesn’t have an officer to do this kind of compliance. You have to walk in with enough information to tell them you can comply, and maybe you’ll get lucky and a bank will want to represent you.”
Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions actually treats “bankers as customers,” according to Schultz.
“From our point of view, it’s not their obligation to understand us,” Schultz said. “It’s our obligation to understand them. We need to know their world better than they do. Our perspective is to get in front of it.”
Jim Ott, founder and CEO of Precision Cultivation Company in Longmont, Colo., stressed that cannabis cultivators can definitely learn a thing or two from commercial agriculture.
“Align yourself throughout the supply chain,” Ott said. “Figure out a way to build strategic relationships up and down the chain, so you can make sure that great product goes all the way through to the customer.”
Ott cites three components that will help spearhead success in the cannabis industry:
• Sophisticated business plan
• Efficient cultivation management processes
• Product development
Research and development are near and dear to Ott’s heart, especially as it relates to safe-guarding genetics.
“You’ve got to apply science,” Ott said. “Commercial agriculture has had 40 to 50 years of studying plants, how you grow them and how genetic traits are expressed. That’s going to be the future of this industry. We have to get predictability in genetics to start with.”
Panel moderator Jesce Horton, who is the founder of the Portland, Ore., cultivation operation Panacea Valley Gardens, is focused on small, craft brands as worries mount over mass-produced cannabis by industry outsiders.
“We need to fight the idea of general commoditization,” Horton said. “I think craft cannabis is the best way to fight some of these larger businesses that are coming in with really, really big infrastructure and a lot of money.”
Goldsberry agrees. “Smart consumers know that artisan products are far better than mass-produced products,” she said. “And we all know that the cannabis market is an artisan market, and we want the finest cannabis flowers that we consume into our bodies. We want the best. That means we need to get it from small farmers who are really paying close attention to each individual plant.”
Holly Woolard is a Northern California-based, award-winning editor and writer who has covered sports and travel. She’s been a cannabis connoisseur for 40 years.