Each month, we reach out to cannabis cultivation company owners and managers, requesting business insights, growing advice and more to share with you. This month, we’re turning the spotlight on those businesses’ employees.
What matters most to employees, and how are cannabis companies handling what’s most important? We asked about leadership, work environment, pay and more, and we are thrilled to introduce the results in our first annual “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For—Cultivation” issue.
Cannabis Business Times partnered with The Best Companies Group (BCG), an independent research firm specializing in identifying great places to work, which helped conduct the study in the fall of 2019. Cultivation companies that met the requirements were encouraged to complete the application process, which included: an Employer Benefits and Policies Questionnaire, where leaders had a chance to shed light on their company polices, practices, benefits and demographics; and, the Employee Engagement & Satisfaction Survey, in which employees ranked statements such as “This organization treats me like a person, not a number” using a scale ranging from “Agree Strongly” to “Disagree Strongly.”
Though results from both surveys factored into which companies received the designation as the “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For,” answers from the employee engagement survey were weighted higher at 75% compared to the information from the employer questionnaire at 25%.
Four companies earned the “best” distinction, and you can read about four of them in this issue. In addition, Darren Brisebois, president of top-ranking OGEN by Bloom Cultivation, will discuss how the Canadian company fosters a positive culture during the Cannabis Conference, April 21-23.
When reviewing results from the employee survey, a few things stood out. Overall, cannabis companies seem to be cultivating good supervisor/employee relationships. Best companies received a 93% agreed response rate to “My supervisor treats me fairly,” while others received 87%, for example.
Averages for the work environment category were also high, in the 80% range for both “Best Companies” and other companies groups, as employees responded favorably to statements like “My physical working conditions are good” and “I feel physically safe in my work environment.”
However, both best and overall company groups missed the mark when it came to pay and benefits. Averages for questions about pay and benefits were the lowest of the survey, at 76% for the “Best Companies” and 61% for others. Other companies received a 60% agree rate to the statement “My pay is fair for the work I perform,” while best companies received a 77% rate, for example.
Good teams are essential to creating successful companies, and keeping people happy, especially in a competitive job market, is important. Participating companies in the “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For” research can purchase their results to find out where they excel and what they can improve. For more information and how to participate in 2021, visit bit.ly/Best-Cannabis-Companies.
APA Calls For Better Cannabis Access, Schedule II Reclassification
“Providing scientists with access to the range of products available through state dispensaries will be critical to understanding the effects of real-world use of cannabinoids.”
^ American Psychological Association (APA) Chief Scientific Officer Russell D. Shilling, Ph.D., submitted a written testimony on behalf of the APA on Jan. 15, 2020, to the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Health Subcommittee, calling for federal policies that would allow scientists to have better access to market-grade cannabis to better study the negative effects and benefits of cannabis use. Source: APA
EVALI: An Update
“National and state data from patient reports and product sample testing suggest tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources … are linked to most EVALI cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”
^ The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an update on the e-cigarette/vaping associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak on Jan. 14. The CDC noted that 82% of hospitalized patients with data on substance use reported using THC-containing products; 33% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products. Source: CDC
Illinois Dispensary Starts ‘Medical-Only Monday’
“Dedicating a day to work solely with our patients is the right thing to do for everyone.”
^ In a press release, Kim Kiefer, chief retail officer for Ascend Wellness Holdings, the Boston-based parent company of Illinois Supply & Provisions, said that the company’s focus will remain on serving medical patients despite adult-use legalization. As of Jan. 27, the Collinsville and Springfield, Ill., locations are open to registered patients only on Mondays, allowing staff to give more attention to the dispensary’s more than 6,000 patients. Source: St. Louis Business Journal
The 2020 “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For—Cultivation” employee survey included questions about key areas related to employee satisfaction, including leadership and planning, corporate culture and communication, role satisfaction, relationships with supervisors, training and development, pay and benefits and overall engagement. On average, “Best Companies” posted an employee engagement rate of 85% compared with 75% for employers that did not make the list. Here’s a closer look at how the employees of “Best Companies” rate their employers compared to the rest of the participants.
The “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For—Cultivation” survey also included responses from employers on the benefits each company offers. Some key figures to note include:
- 40% of “Best Companies” pay 100% of their employees’ health insurance premium compared with 0% of all other survey respondents.
- 100% of “Best Companies” offer an employee incentive or bonus plan compared with 93% of all survey respondents.
- 40% of “Best Companies” allow employees to take time off for community service or volunteer work compared with 29% of all survey respondents.
- 80% of “Best Companies” have a formalized succession planning program in place compared with 36% of all survey respondents.
- 80% of “Best Companies” offer tuition reimbursement for certifications and business education and/or conferences compared with 36% of all other respondents.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Cannabis Business Times. Ken Morrow has been a featured columnist since the publication’s first issue. This article is the second most-read story in CBT’s five-year history.
One of the first questions I ask a potential consulting client is, “Do you and your employees purchase and consume the cannabis you produce? And if so, are you proud of the products you produce?” The answers I get sometimes surprise me, especially when the answer is “no” and that it does not matter because their products sell, regardless. At those times, I politely decline the employment opportunity. At no time in my career have I had any desire to produce anything other than the absolute best-quality cannabis possible with the funding and situation presented. I always strive to do the best I can with what I have.
A Colorado grower had once asked me to do a facility evaluation because their production totals were getting lower and lower each month. I began my assessment with a quick tour of the facility, then re-walked the facility without management, which allowed me to interview staff about their thoughts as to why production was slipping. Each employee sheepishly explained that management did not listen to the input or the needs of the employees, and that management told the grower that the plan was dictated by costs. Two out of three members of management never consumed cannabis, and it was simply a commodity to them. They were more concerned with the completion of their dispensary remodel than with the quality of their cannabis.
At one point, I attempted to explain to the carpenter/owner that no healthy cannabis plant is completely yellow and that he had 200 yellow plants. He would not even entertain me to go look at them.
At the same facility, another owner walked me to their drying room. As soon as they opened the door, I was blasted with the overwhelming odor of ammonia, a byproduct of degradation caused by inadequate airflow and by placing freshly cut product in the same environment with material that was almost dry. This essentially rehydrates the almost-dry material and does not properly address the humidity levels. Freshly cut material cannot be placed in the same room with material that has been drying for multiple days and be expected to dry at a uniform rate without proper ventilation, humidity and temperature control.
Yet again, these owners did not care because the product still sold. The one owner who did consume cannabis, as well as all their employees who were consumers, did not consume the cannabis they produce, nor were they proud of the product they sell.
A Phoenix, Ariz., operation was so focused on filling up its 65,000-square-foot facility to make money that it completely neglected to construct a proper drying and curing area. The management didn't understand or care about the importance of drying and curing. After three years of operation, their head grower quit. They couldn't sell all the mid-grade product at their two dispensaries, so they were forced to wholesale the majority of what they grow to competing dispensaries.
They do not grow quality cannabis, and theirs is certainly not a product to be proud of. When competitors produce superior products for a superior price, a company built on inferior cannabis will ultimately implode. You can grow the best, strongest, most aromatic cannabis in the world, only to destroy most of those qualities with improper drying and curing.
The Art of Drying and Curing
Drying and curing cannabis properly is an art in itself. Similarly, a tobacco farmer who grows tobacco for the finest hand-rolled cigars gives the highest level of care and attention to detail when drying and curing, which sets the stage for the final product. I have been to organic tobacco farms on a Caribbean island that dry and cure their leaves by old-world standards, the same as they have for decades. The care and the attention to detail they demonstrate is all for the love of the art, not just for monetary gain.
In the California, Oregon or Washington state coastal regions, it is very difficult to rapidly dry or over-dry cannabis because of the marine layer influence, which causes elevated nighttime humidity and, in some areas, fog. It is this marine layer influence that is responsible for mold and/or mildew proliferation in some cannabis. To rapidly dry or over-dry cannabis in these regions, one would have to try in fall and winter.
This is not so in some areas of Nevada, Arizona or Colorado, two of which have significant differences in elevation, temperatures and humidity variation. Arizona and Nevada are both different climates that can range from 115°F in summer to 28°F and lower in winter, with low humidity levels most of the year and no real humidity influence except for monsoon season in Arizona.
Denver, Colo., is more than 5,000 feet in elevation and in many areas, elevation is even higher, and temperatures can range from sub-0°F in winter to well over 100°F in summer. In winter, in one 24-hour period, it can range from subzero and snowing with 0-percent humidity at night to 75°F with 60-percent humidity during the midday as the snow melts in the sunshine. Both of these diverse climates require special attention to drying and curing, which may not be required in a region that has a predictable coastal marine layer influence.
A bud of cannabis should have some give-and-take to it when squeezed, similar to the give-and-take when squeezing a marshmallow between thumb and forefinger. The bud should not be so dry that it simply crumbles or turns to a dry powder. Rapidly dried or over-dried cannabis, as mentioned, has diminished levels of desirable terpenes and is much less flavorful than properly dried and cured cannabis. Small amounts of cannabis are fairly simple to dry and cure, as long as you understand the nuances and maintain a stable proper environment that is not too hot nor too cold, in a well-ventilated area.
However, large commercial amounts of cannabis require special attention to every detail to ensure the resulting product is superior in quality, not over-dried and flavorless. Many believe that with properly dried and cured cannabis buds, the primary stem inside the body should be so dry that it snaps in half when bent. In reality, that would be considered over-dried. It should crack, yet bend without being wet or excessively moist. Again, the stem should audibly crack, but not break in half, and the bud should have give-and-take, not explode into powder.
It is a fine line. Drying and curing are developed skills that come from actually consuming the cannabis you produce (if you are a medical patient or involved in an adult use business) and striving to always make it better. Yet again, it is an art as well. There is no magic temperature and humidity set point, because there are many variables from seasonal temperatures, fluctuating humidity levels, elevations, barometric pressures, different cultivars and quantities, and so on.
However, a drying room should always be properly ventilated, with fresh, filtered, outside air and with proper odor control practices on all exhausted air. It should have the ability to both impart humidity via a humidifier and to dehumidify via a dehumidifier, as well as the ability to both heat and cool. Whether you hang dry individual plants or branches with buds attached or put wet, trimmed buds on racked screens, whether your crop is 500 pounds or 50,000 pounds, you must have at least that amount of control over the drying rate—not excessively hot (over 75°F to 80°F). Many dry at lower temperatures, for example, 60°F to 70°F, to preserve the highest percentage of terpenes possible.
Temperatures that are too cold, however, with improper airflow, will produce inferior cannabis with undesirable qualities; the final product retains excessive levels of chlorophyll, and never smells or tastes as it should, and sometimes has a fresh cut grass or hay odor. Humidity control is always a must. Logically, one would want to eliminate as much humidity as rapidly as possible, which is typically accelerated with elevated temperatures. But there is a fine line between rapidly drying the cannabis and rapidly evaporating terpenes, contained inside the trichomes that coat the outside of the cannabis buds.
Each and every terpene has a boiling point and temperature at which it begins to evaporate. Monoterpenes evaporate first and are typically the primary terpenes evaporated in drying. The task is to eliminate unwanted moisture from the plants and buds as rapidly as possible without evaporating excessive amounts of terpenes. The outside of the bud dries first and becomes slightly dry to the touch.
The art is to draw the inner core humidity to the outside slowly, without sacrificing terpenes. The cigar tobacco-leaf drying sheds on the Caribbean island had ropes hanging from the ceiling. Bundles of leaves were raised or lowered from the floor to the 20-foot ceiling multiple times a day to accommodate proper drying and curing, because the higher you go in the shed, the hotter and more humid the air. Take note, this is in the Caribbean on an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean with a hurricane season.
Heaters, coolers, humidifiers and dehumidifiers combined with airflow are the science if used properly, but there must be “the art” in the equation as well. Someone who does not appreciate the nuances of cannabis and all its qualities, whether they personally consume cannabis or not, should not be in charge of drying and curing.
When the outside of the plant is dry, it is best to rehydrate the outside of the bud by drawing the inside moisture to it. The best way to achieve this is to place the buds into a sealed container for a short period at drying temperature (for 2 to 24 hours depending on quantity), while periodically exchanging the container air. The bud will again become uniform in moisture consistency or dryness. This can be very time-consuming and difficult at large-scale, which is why few large-scale commercial growers do it. The homogenized buds are then rehung or placed back on drying racks to repeat the process until the desired moisture content is achieved, which should never be “very dry.”
This begins the curing phase. Always be careful to avoid excessive temperatures and be vigilant for any possible signs of mold. If there is any mold present, it will spread in a warm, moist environment, which is exactly what you don't want. Properly dried cannabis is fairly easy to cure. After proper drying, the cannabis is again placed into sealed containers to prevent moisture and terpene dissipation. The sealed containers are checked multiple times a day, and all air in the container is exchanged for fresh air.
At this point, proper moisture content is closely monitored. If a container is opened and the buds are excessively moist, the container is left open until desired moisture content is achieved, or the contents can be placed on the drying rack and closely monitored.
This process is repeated over and over and over again until the perfect, uniform, desired humidity and moisture content are achieved. And therein lies the art.
About the Author: Kenneth Morrow is an author and writer who has been covering cannabis-related subjects for more than 20 years. He is the owner of Trichome Technologies™, a cannabis research and development company. Morrow also is an award-winning grower and breeder. He has made contributions to many of today's extraction methodologies and holds multiple patents in the field. He currently specializes in product formulation and consults on all cannabis-related subjects. Find him on Instagram (TrichomeTechnologies) or Facebook (Trichome Technologies).
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