On Nov. 13, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) announced it had awarded research grants to eight public universities to study the state’s cannabis system and its impacts. “The research conducted through these public university grants will provide critical information for evaluating our legal cannabis system and its impacts,” former Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax said in a press release. (Ajax’s retirement was effective Dec. 2.) “This research will be a valuable tool to inform future cannabis policy in California.”
As this issue goes to press, 2020 is coming to an end. This traditionally is a time for reflection, when people take stock of the previous 12 months before moving forward into the new year. However, many have said that they are relieved this unimaginable year is over and ready to put what has been an unprecedented and devastating period behind them. But it’s also important to remember how we navigated historic challenges and got through it.
Right now, it's the middle of December, and the team at Cannabis Business Times is looking back, compiling roundups of the top articles of 2020 and writing about the most significant industry news and trends, which you can read here. And although CBT covered the coronavirus pandemic and how essential cannabis companies could pivot—and those important articles were widely read—they were not among the top 10 for the year.
And that’s because there were other stories to tell and information you needed. Because your business continued to move forward, even in the face of the most unpredictable challenges. Companies innovated, new markets launched, and advocacy groups collected enough signatures to put legalization initiatives in front of voters despite the seemingly insurmountable hurdles in their way.
2020’s top story came from longtime CBT columnist and editorial advisory board member Kenneth Morrow, who wrote about the complicated matter of drying and curing cannabis at scale and how cultivators can produce quality products while being efficient. You can read Morrow’s column in this issue here. The team of researchers, led by Dr. Brian Whipker, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University, also wrote one of the most-read articles of the year, which detailed how to diagnose and prevent white mold in cannabis. And check out the team’s first article of 2021 here.
This issue’s cover story profiles a company that launched in July 2020—right in the middle of the pandemic—but that is not the significant storyline of the Harbor Farmz article, written by Digital Editor Eric Sandy. Instead, Sandy spotlights how the Michigan cultivator realized its lofty goals, including developing a tissue culture lab out the gate, and other innovations CEO Michael Ward has helped lead to drive efficiency and meet rigorous production deadlines.
And Ward, like other cannabis entrepreneurs, is doing this without the typical access to capital, tax credits and other supports afforded to businesses in other industries. As Cresco Labs’ CEO and co-founder Charlie Bachtell notes in CBT’s new “The Last Word” department, “This industry is truly being built with one to one-and-a-half hands behind its back.” Bachtell was reflecting on the significance of the U.S. House voting to approve the MORE Act, which would deschedule cannabis and potentially open up access to capital and nullify 280E.
Although most agree the bill’s chances in the Senate are slim, Bachtell noted the importance of pausing to appreciate the moment and reflect on the momentum the industry has experienced this year, that will likely continue in 2021. “The fact that you’ve got, for the second time, cannabis-related language now receiving a favorable vote out of half of Congress is something that I know the pioneers of this industry, upon the shoulders of which we stand, didn’t know if they would ever see.”
After a difficult 2019 that left cannabis companies reeling from dried up investment funds, brands started 2020 with minimally available capital, and the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help. Strapped for funding, cannabis brands had to be strategic with the products they brought to market.
Despite this, Brightfield Group tracked 912 new product launches in 2020 (as of press time), with some products securing shelf space across different markets. Into 2021, cannabis innovation will only continue.
Legislative Changes Open Opportunities for Cannabis Brands
In the 2020 U.S. election, Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey legalized adult-use cannabis; Mississippi legalized medical cannabis; and South Dakota passed both medical and adult use. Of these states, Brightfield Group predicts New Jersey and Arizona will see adult-use sales in late 2021. New York and Rhode Island also could see recreational sales this year, as both state legislatures were already talking about adult-use legalization as of December 2020.
The West Coast has maintained a competitive edge over the East Coast due to its well-established markets, cannabis-friendly climate, and access to capital. Brands already operating in California or Nevada will be able to enter Arizona’s adult-use market with experience. Additionally, many brands already operate in Arizona’s medical market, such as Keef and DNA Genetics.
The East Coast cannabis market is much less established, with only Massachusetts having adult-use dispensaries for more than a year. The multistate operators that sell medical cannabis on the East Coast—like Curaleaf and Cresco Labs—will likely help transition East Coast markets to adult-use, as they have done in Illinois. East Coast legalization will provide much-needed capital to the U.S. cannabis market; but with brands fiercely competing on the West Coast, we’ll likely see most of the innovation on the West rather than the East. Products that can successfully compete in these markets may then establish themselves across the U.S.
Product Technology Advancement Continues
Looking from a product perspective, Brightfield Group expects cannabis edibles technology will continue to advance toward quicker, more precise onsets. Several brands in the U.S. and Canada introduced gummies, drinks, and powders with improved THC bioavailability for more effective uptake. By improving how THC is absorbed in the body, cannabis companies can more accurately provide a uniform onset time and length of experience.
In 2020, consumers became more aware of their THC doses. Brightfield Group’s U.S. Cannabis Consumer Insights reveals that only 15% of all cannabis consumers in Q2 were “not sure” of the dosage they take, down from 21% in Q1. Generationally, Baby Boomers are the most likely to not know their dosage, but still only 25% report not knowing. With only 11% of Millennials unaware of their dosage, edibles brands must continue to innovate to suit consumers’ experiential desires. Predictable dosages only serve to add more credibility to an edibles brand, and the quest for ingestible products that mimic inhalable experiences will keep this category innovating through 2021.
Madeline Obrzut is a content specialist at Brightfield Group.
When Strawberry Fields expanded its Colorado operations and started building a new 2-acre greenhouse about five years ago, the owners looked beyond how the rest of the industry was cloning cannabis plants. Examining horticulture markets that have been cloning in large amounts for years inspired the owners to adapt force multipliers and automation, with many ideas coming from large greenhouses across the country.
For the propagation zone of our 2-acre greenhouse, for example, we use irrigation booms—automated systems—instead of aeroponic, hydroponic or humidity domes. Irrigation booms precisely water young plants with minimal waste and upkeep. They hang over plants so there’s no need to drag a hose around, and some you can stand on to eliminate walkways altogether. (We increased our propagation square footage by almost 15%.) Here are four tips for using them.
TIP 1: Set exact parameters.
A boom can be programmed to a room’s dimensions so coordinates can be set to the exact parameters of a group of recently cloned trays. The boom can also water a full room of plants. It can then be set to mist at certain intervals based on environmental controls or desired water amount. When aligned with environmental controls, it can even detect barometric pressure so when humidity drops, it will trigger the boom to mist the selected batch of clones. Leave a space in between any plots that may be on different misting intervals to avoid overspray.
TIP 2: Utilize solenoid valves.
Irrigation booms also allow you to simultaneously select among several different water and nutrient mixtures. Our boom utilizes solenoid valves to separate four different nutrient mixes so we can program it to mist separate nutrients on specific schedules. These schedules provide plants the exact ratio of fertilizer to maximize root development. The combination of humidity and nutrient control helped our team expand from producing 2,000 clones a week, rooting every 28 days, to 14,000 clones a week, rooting every 21 days. Our labor also dropped from three people over seven days to two people in two days.
TIP 3: Avoid pests by not overwatering.
Clones must be clean of all pests and pathogens to ensure their success and a happy, returning customer if you’re selling wholesale. We can control our boom with computers and cell phones to ensure we don’t overwater. (We have a roughly 5,760-square-foot room and use 400 to 500 gallons of water a day.) This helps eliminate pests; fungus gnats and algae are not able to thrive and reproduce, eliminating the majority of the pest problems that may occur. We’re also able to inject state-approved pesticides through the boom to help keep pests at bay.
TIP 4: Sanitize the area with the boom.
Once we are finished with a batch of clones, our team injects sanitizer through the boom to disinfect the area and the misting nozzles. We prefilter the water so the nozzles stay free from debris. In addition, we flush the system to make sure we don’t spray any chemicals on plants.
Altogether, the boom system produces consistent results, eliminates hundreds of labor hours in our greenhouse and allows us to use all of the available growing space for our propagation area effectively and efficiently.
Gevin Gros is chief of cultivation and greenhouse manager at Strawberry Fields.
Cannabis Business Times’ interactive legislative map is another tool to help cultivators quickly navigate state cannabis laws and find news relevant to their markets. View More