“People have been using cannabis forever. The question is, how do we as scientists catch up?”
^ Staci Gruber, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, launched the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery, or MIND, program, which examines the effects of medical cannabis, and was interviewed as part of an article outlining the history of CBD and its use as medicine, what is still unknown about its effects and the possibilities. Source: The New York Times Magazine
“As our legal cannabis industry continues to flourish, it’s important to ensure that the door of economic opportunity remains open for all Nevadans.”
^ Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak comments in response to the law he signed June 5 making it unlawful for Nevada employers to refuse to hire a job applicant for testing positive for marijuana during a drug screening test. The law, which goes into effect in 2020, does not extend to firefighters, EMTs, employees who operate a vehicle or anyone who could potentially threaten the safety of others while on the job. Source: CNN
“We know prohibition’s not working. It’s time to come up with a better policy. We want social justice, safety for our kids and the state to realize additional revenue.”
^ Illinois State Sen. Heather Steans, a Democrat based in Chicago, was the chief Senate sponsor for the bill to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older that was eventually passed by both the Illinois House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The bill, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, would also create opportunities for those with past, non-violent marijuana convictions to have them expunged. Source: NPR
While magnesium (Mg) is sometimes a forgotten element, sulfur (S) is actually ignored. Few fertilizer bags even list the amount of S provided. Typically, it is only listed as an ingredient, and the main amount of S supplied is from the associated sulfate (-SO4) attached to the micronutrients. This low amount provided as part of the micronutrients is generally insufficient to meet plant demands.
One reason S has not received much attention is because atmospheric S has been readily available due to the burning of high sulfur coal. In the 1966 book, “Sand and Water Culture Methods Used in the Study of Plant Nutrition,” author E.J. Hewitt states that in the United Kingdom, S deficiencies are rarely seen within close proximity to cities or towns due to the use of household coal-burning heating units. With the increased use of low-S containing coal and natural gas for electricity generation, the amount of atmospheric S available to plants is diminishing. To compensate for this shift, agricultural applications of S-containing fertilizers such as potassium sulfate (K2SO4), calcium sulfate (CaSO4), and magnesium sulfate heptahydrate (MgSO4.7H2O) have increased.
With greenhouse cannabis production, we require fertilizers to be readily water soluble. Sulfate-based fertilizers such as K2SO4, CaSO4 and MgSO4.7H2O easily precipitate out of solution into insoluble forms. The primary culprit is CaSO4, which is gypsum and commonly used as wallboard in building construction. So the S fertilization strategy must be customized to meet the demands of the greenhouse environment.
Evaluate Your Fertilizer Program
The first step in determining if you are providing enough S is to evaluate your fertilization program. Sufficient levels of S usually are not provided by the irrigation water. (In most cases this is ideal, for S in the hydrogen sulfide form (H2S) is associated with the rotten egg smell.) Ideally, fertilizer and the corresponding substrate S levels should be in the 50 to 200 ppm range. Assuming the availability of a baseline level of atmospheric S, the critical lower target range should be above 25 ppm S. Higher levels of S generally are considered to be non-toxic, but there is a limit above ~300 ppm. Elevated S levels can inhibit the plant’s ability to uptake both boron (B) and molybdenum (Mo). The key for plant nutrition is balancing all the factors that impact uptake to optimize growth.
Because S concentrations are typically not listed on most fertilizer bags, you will need to send a fertilizer solution sample to a commercial lab to obtain a complete analysis of the S and the other elements contained in your fertilizer. This is an invaluable test that should be done to ensure that your overall fertilization program is on track.
Sulfur Deficiency Symptoms
Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) plants can develop symptoms of S deficiency, but the occurrence is much lower than, say, a nitrogen (N) deficiency. Sulfur and N deficiencies have very similar leaf symptomology. The key is observing where on the plant the symptoms first appear. Nitrogen is a mobile element, which means when the plant senses that N is low, it will remobilize N from the older leaves to the younger growth. That is why N deficiency symptomology of total leaf chlorosis (yellowing) initially appears on the older, lower leaves. (Note: With advanced N deficiencies, the symptomology will work its way up the stem into the middle section of the plant, which can confuse the diagnosis.)
Sulfur is a partially mobile element. In most S-deficiency situations, symptoms of leaf yellowing will appear in the middle section of the plant on the recently matured stage of leaves (Fig. 4). This is the case when N is also amply provided. If at the same time, N levels are inadequate, S deficiency symptomology can overlap in lower portions of the plant in the same region where N symptomology will appear. This makes diagnosing the situation more challenging and reinforces the need to submit a tissue sample to a commercial lab for complete nutrient analysis to confirm your diagnosis.
The typical progression of S symptomology begins as an overall pale discoloration of the middle zone leaves (Fig. 2A). This yellowing is associated with a drastic decrease in chlorophyll concentration in the leaf due to the plant’s inability to synthesize key amino acids. The pattern of how the chlorosis first appears on the leaf will aid in diagnosing S deficiency. Typically chlorosis first appears at the leaf base and progresses outwards toward the leaf tip (Fig. 1). As symptoms progress, the overall level of yellowing intensifies (Fig. 2B&C). With advanced conditions, due to the lack of chlorophyll, sun burning of the leaves will result in the appearance of necrotic spots. Plant growth will also be stunted (Fig. 3). In general, the S sufficiency range for cannabis is between 0.17 percent to 0.26 percent as suggested by Bryson and Mills in “Plant Analysis Handbook IV.”
The fix for S deficiency is easy. Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) can be applied at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 gallons of water (2.4 kg/1000L). Apply this as a 5 percent to 10 percent flow-through leaching irrigation. This will stop symptom progression but will not reverse any severe leaf chlorosis or necrotic spotting. For regions that lack sufficient S in irrigation water and S is not part of the regular fertilization program (i.e., 20-10-20 does not contain significant amounts of S), monthly applications of Epsom salts at the rate of 1 pound per 100 gallons of water (1.2 kg/1000L) is the common production practice to green up plants and avoid deficiencies. (Also note, avoid mixing Epsom salts with calcium (Ca)-based fertilizers, as this will result in an insoluble precipitate forming in the fertilizer container.)
Symptoms of S deficiency readily develop on cannabis. Growers need to increase the amount of S available from the irrigation water, and provide supplemental S to the plants as needed to avoid further deficiencies.
Brian Whipker, Paul Cockson, James Turner Smith & Hunter Landis are from the Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
The American market is undeniably the largest the world has ever seen and is likely to remain so for a very long time. Look at it this way: We can each produce something, then sell it in the same language and using the same currency across a jurisdiction spanning nearly 3,000 miles. In terms of geography, there is no other market like it and never has been. Given that America is a $20-trillion economic powerhouse, we are also unlikely to see any other economy nearly as valuable. The opportunity to sell into that market is why everyone wants to bring their products to the U.S., no matter what market cap their companies currently have.
While an ongoing flood of companies, most notably conglomerates, entering the U.S. market may incite fear, we prefer to look at the opportunities as we perceive them.
Niche products that have gained access to the U.S. market and have prospered include Ben & Jerry’s, Honest (maker of Honest Tea, among others) and Tom’s of Maine. Sierra Nevada used to be a craft beer company, and KIND used to be a niche health food company. Companies like Trillium Brewing Company in Massachusetts and Vermont’s Alchemist are now at craft scale, while Sierra Nevada and KIND have grown to be larger operators.
What each of these current and former niche businesses have in common is an understanding of their existing and potential customers. In the context of the American market, each of these players learned to understand its customers and to deliver what these customers wanted. Each of these success stories features a company that gained the confidence and trust of a large part of its potential market. By the time the larger players in their respective industries became aware of these niche brands, the larger players had to either live with the niche players or try to acquire them. Once the niche players had gained the confidence and trust of American consumers, the large players could do very little about it.
The question for the cannabis industry is whether we can do the same thing in our industry before Big Pharma, Big Alcohol or Big Tobacco figure out how to gain the confidence of our natural market with products similar to our products before we do.
The First-to-Market Advantage
It appears to us that we, as current operators, have the advantage of being first into this market. Our products are not easy to handle, and our market and our customers have their quirks. The big guys will throw their money at the problem by bringing in their marketing experts and focus groups to try to understand our market’s customers. We do not believe the big guys can do this any more quickly or more effectively than current cannabis businesses can. We believe that we can deliver the products, the packaging and the labeling that our customers want better than the big guys can.
We are not saying that this will be easy. Today’s cannabis businesses will have to work to understand their markets better than they do now. Some of this market, in particular some of the larger conventional American consumer market, will be strange to us. That is, some of our potential market will be entirely new to whatever we might call the “cannabis experience.”
Nevertheless, we have a head start. We know our natural customers, and we know the nuances of our products that we will have to explain to new customers. This means that current operators should be able to do the focus groups and the marketing better than the big guys. It seems to us that this is exactly what Ben and Jerry’s, Sierra Nevada and other companies like them have done.
Furthermore, we have an extremely large market to motivate us all. We should be able to exploit market niches within our markets and, indeed, to exploit the entire market before the big guys can.
On the whole, we believe that they have more to fear from us than we have from them. We all know that they could spend an awful lot of money going down rabbit holes in this industry and end up with nothing. The big prizes will mostly go to the companies that learn how to create and serve American customers. Those should be our companies.
Build Trust, Reduce Costs
We have recognized certain significant cost drivers that, within the American market, are unique to the cannabis industry, including one of the biggest thorns in the side of producers: mandatory third-party testing.
Mandatory testing is required of conventional food, beverage and drug producers, but they all do their testing in-house, subject to FDA audit. Even after absorbing the costs of internal testing, bringing that testing in-house would save our company (Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions) roughly $400,000 per year in comparison to the costs of independent third-party testing.
To bring testing in-house, we would have to do a lot of work to convince both our regulators and our customers that they could rely implicitly on our in-house testing. Furthermore, our legitimacy in our customers’ (and regulators’) eyes is invaluable and must never be subject to question. Nevertheless, we have several hundred thousand dollars of motivation regarding this issue.
Another area for very large potential cost savings is tax reform, specifically with respect to Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code. If the big guys get into this industry, we can expect them to talk to politicians through their lobbyists about how many people they employ and about how important their industries are to local economies to persuade them to revise these unfriendly codes.
This perhaps is the biggest advantage larger companies have over current cannabis industry operators: They already work together. They generally do this through large industry organizations. The cost of that unification is that even big guys like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson or Unilever can’t simply go their own way, no matter how big they are. They have to figure out how to cooperate as to their common industry interests, which tend to overwhelm their competitive interests. No matter how big they may be, they would never fight 280E as individual companies, but rather as an industry. They would present a united front as an industry that contributes a great deal of money to the American economy and that employs a large number of people. They would direct their lobbyists at a common target.
Our industry already has multiple associations and lobbyists, and already employs a lot of people. Presenting ourselves with a unified voice as the source of legitimate product and as significant to local economies, however, remains a challenge. So long as we leave legitimacy and economic significance to the big guys, we will be exposed on that front. We would like to control product legitimacy and economic significance from the high ground. We already know about regulation. We already know about testing. We already know how to hire lobbyists. From our point of view, our industry should be the one to remove Section 280E from the tax code. This will take a unified industry. We will need producers working with dispensaries, dispensaries working with producers, and industry organizations that help us to work together.
With the exception of cooperation, we see those big guys as no better than we are and probably not nearly as good.
The Value of Getting It Right
We argue that the door is open for us to be as sophisticated as any big company or as any big industry in working together politically to do something that benefits all of us, all of our communities, and all of our customers. We can do all of this as a legitimate industry that employs thousands of people, contributes its more-than-fair share of taxes, and supports the growth of the entire economy.
We acknowledge how esoteric this sounds. It sounds like a lot of effort for something other than this month’s revenues and profits. But either we control these matters, or we leave them to someone else to control. As Aristotle said: Nature abhors a vacuum.
Thomas Schultz: President, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions (CPS), CTPharma.com
Rino Ferrarese: COO, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions
Given that Oregon’s cannabis reserves reportedly are more than six times its yearly consumption rate, interstate commerce seems like a logical solution to the state’s oversupply issue. (Also being considered is allowing on-site sales directly from farm-to-customer, therefore bypassing the dispensary, and another bill (S.B. 218) that would halt the issuance of new licenses during the glut.)
The Oregon Senate's passage of S.B. 582, the interstate commerce bill, and the related efforts to get it passed can be summarized as a call for a free-market economy. That call makes me wonder what the cannabis industry would look like if it operated as a regulated free market where the product, produced legally in one state, can be shipped to any other legal state. Odds are the West Coast would rule the market.
But what if the cannabis industry was a truly free market product, coming with all that entails? Given that is what we are all fighting for, it might be good to start thinking about our rapidly approaching new reality.
Free market is defined as a system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and by customers. It can be assumed that, in a free market, a majority of consumers will consume the most cost-effective cannabis, meaning they will gravitate toward the highest quality products offered at the lowest possible prices. To be competitive in that type of market, growers need to have their production costs in check.
So, what is the cost of production in Oregon versus other states? Specifically, what is the difference in production costs in a climate perfect for cannabis cultivation, such as Oregon, versus cannabis produced in the desert, such as in Arizona or Nevada? Or at a 5,000-foot elevation, or next to a Great Lake that experiences lake effect snow in the winter? The extreme seasonal swings in those areas will demand more environmental control inputs, whereas growers in Oregon, Washington or California have a near ideal climate naturally and should be able to reduce the use of environmental control inputs such as air conditioning, dehumidification and heating.
In this regard, Oregon and the entire West Coast seem well positioned to compete with growers in different states when it comes to cost of production.
Additionally, Oregon, Washington and California would have a head start on the market, as they have a strong reputation for producing quality cannabis. In fact, many of today’s popular cultivars were bred there or are directly linked to genetics from those states, and consumer favorites often hail from the Pacific states.
Indeed, West Coast cannabis is revered and respected worldwide and has been for many years. California has many specific appellations within counties such as Mendocino and Humboldt. Along with Trinity County, these counties make up the world-renowned Emerald Triangle. Some farms there are today cultivated by third- or even fourth-generation cannabis growers.
Some of those legacy cannabis growers are migrating to the California Central Valley in areas where cannabis production is allowed. The latest cannabis cultivation trend is the retrofitting of currently existing flower production greenhouses, of which there are thousands throughout central California, covering tens of millions of square feet of production capacity.
That’s not counting the acres upon acres of some of the most fertile soil on Earth, ready for outdoor hemp production.
The Global Hemp Factor
Interstate cannabis commerce comes with interstate hemp commerce. And when it comes to domestic hemp production, whether it be for CBD, fiber or food, no one is going to top California.
California is an agricultural juggernaut. It has a relatively tepid climate in the Central Valley, which is capable of producing a crop of one form or another year round, and is commonly referred to as the “World’s Fruit Basket,” a name well-earned, as it produces more fruits, nuts and vegetables than any other place on Earth. An ideal climate and decades of experience growing crops at scale results in the Central Valley having a low cost of production at commercial scale compared to other geographic locations.
Besides the climate and brainpower advantages, California is the world’s fifth largest economy, surpassing the U.K., and the California agricultural industry generates billions of dollars toward the state’s GDP.
Most of that revenue is generated by commercialized industrial agriculture, aka “big AG,” with much of the product being exported to other state or international markets.
When it comes to hemp, however, I suspect California and other U.S. farmers are going to be supplanted by producers in other developed emerging markets such as China and Colombia. These countries have already begun to stake claim to the hemp market and are expected to play a role in hemp cultivation and CBD refinement in the years to come, thanks to lower production and labor costs.
The looming global presence in the hemp market makes me wonder whether the lifting of the ban on interstate commerce would somehow legalize the importation of high-THC cannabis and CBD-rich hemp or their derivatives. In all practicality, interstate commerce is regulated by the federal government, and any action to legalize interstate commerce would probably have to follow the path toward legalized cannabis.
Many business plans and proposals put forward by several publicly traded companies (mostly Canadian) have provisions for the import and export of marijuana, hemp and their derivatives. Some intend on producing in countries such as Colombia, Portugal, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and others, all with the intent to be able to export their products to Europe and any other countries that allow for importation.
Indeed, much like any other commodity, I believe it will be hard to compete with foreign-produced cannabis products, whether they are cannabinoids, terpenes or plant fiber. Recently, I have seen Chinese extraction facilities capable of extracting 80 tons of hemp per day, which is astronomical by today’s standards. If that is tomorrow’s big AG, how can today’s hemp farmer or CBD refinery compete?
The implications of a free-market cannabis economy are many, and growers will be left to figure out what will happen when there is a major influx of West Coast cannabis available across the country for a lower price because of West Coast producers’ lower cost of production. Just as important as dealing with the West Coast is preparing to handle an influx of foreign-produced cannabis available for a substantially lower price.
Free Market Opportunities
This is not to say there will not be immensely successful companies in all state markets. But the successful companies that don’t have a West Coast or global footprint will be companies that have another strategic advantage, whether it be desirable proprietary genetics, superior brand recognition, proprietary intellectual properties, superior products for a superior price, etc.
Finding which of your company’s distinguishing features resonates with customers is every brand’s challenge. Will customers desire, care about or respect the history of West Coast-grown cannabis? Or will a majority of consumers only care about the lowest price regardless of where, by whom or how it was produced?
That said, as proven many times over, a certain segment of the consumer populous always wants the best, no matter the cost (to a point). This customer is educated in all things cannabis and cares deeply about how a plant was grown or how an extract was produced. This customer demands cutting-edge products that truly express the flavor and aroma of a given cultivar. This customer cares that a product was produced both organically and sustainably, does not want to compromise quality in any fashion, and, again, they’re willing to pay for it.
Businesses that cater to this customer will inevitably be successful, and no matter where it is produced, that product will be desired in all geographic locations, including the West Coast.
Kenneth Morrow is an author, consultant and owner of Trichome Technologies. Facebook: TrichomeTechnologies Instagram: Trichome Technologies email@example.com
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