After 28 months in the making, Cannabis Conference 2021 has officially come and gone. Cannabis Conference hosted nearly 3,000 industry members at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino from Aug. 24-26 for networking and in-person learning for the first time since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The excitement was palpable, as there was much to break down after a historic and challenging year in cannabis.
Cannabis Conference, focused specifically on helping plant-touching businesses succeed, showcased nearly 90 industry experts who presented on topics surrounding cultivation, dispensary operations, extraction, and business. The event also featured an extensive exhibit hall, where 175-plus exhibitors shared their technology and solutions offerings with attendees.
In a post-Cannabis Conference survey, attendees extolled the energy and caliber of the event. “I was very happy to be in a building filled with people who were passionate knowledge seekers,” shared Megan Clemens, director of cultivation at Fire Rock Farms in Akron, Ohio. “Growing is not for the faint of heart, and it was great to be consumed by the energy of the industry—around folks who are crazy enough to keep digging!”
“The conference was invaluable to us. We learned so much and heard so much valuable advice that we can only imagine it will only benefit our future business in ways we can’t even measure yet,” said Cannabis Conference attendee Monika Hladik.
Below, the editors of Cannabis Business Times take a look back at Cannabis Conference 2021 highlights.
“It was like attending a college that doesn’t exist—for three days.”– John MacClain, CEO of CRMS, LLC, a tribal cannabis retailer based in Okanogan, Wash.
“Whether you’re a farmer, whether you’re a dispensary owner, … whether you’re an extractor—whatever it is, there’s something here for you.” – Joel McClure, founder and director of operations, Bridges Academy Farms
“As I thought about who I was … it was about preserving what I experienced ... in the early 2000s.” - Mario Guzman, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Sherbinskis, on building a brand
“Education is key. Once you get the license, the real work begins.”– Al Harrington, CEO, Viola Brands
“I had this revelation ... ‘Oh my goodness, I’m selling weed to the DEA!’ ... this is so historic!”– Dr. Sue Sisley, president, Scottsdale Research Institute
Terpene production: The best kept secret of LED lighting!
Terpenes are the talk of the town these days, and for good reason. These little flavonoids not only create flavors and smells but also contribute to the differentiating sensations and effects experienced when consuming various cannabis strains. If you’re a grower and trying to stand out—it’s all about the terps!
If you didn’t know, LEDs are doing more than hitting yield numbers. They can be the key to unlocking enhanced terpene profiles far beyond the potential of any HPS lighting technology. The reason is simple—LEDs give growers infinitely more control over their plant environment. “LEDs are changing the way cultivation companies operate. As growers become more sophisticated, they can dispel anecdotal beliefs by using data and the granular control of microclimates around plants. It just isn’t possible with HPS lighting,” says Travis Merchant of Indica Consulting. “The potential for those growers using LEDs is quite expansive and quickly bringing to light the fact that the plants want to do more.”
Knowing that genetics play a huge role in plant terpene profiles, growers are discovering LED technology allows them to push boundaries and open the genetic potential of strains in ways never before seen. Ben Higgins, Chief Research Scientist of Kis Organics, repeatedly studied the effects of various LEDs and HPS lighting fixtures on different cultivars. He saw one glaring fact: Cannabis flower properly grown under LED lighting tested significantly higher in terpenes compared to HPS every time, as much as 35% with certain cultivars.
While photons are an important component of overall production, there are numerous other factors that contribute to the development of terpenes. Using subcanopy light (SCL) spectrums, research from the University of Guelph shows “… both Red-Blue and Red-Green-Blue (RGB) SCL treatments significantly increased yield more than the control treatment, RGB SCL had the greatest impact on modifying terpene content, and Red-Blue produced a more homogenous bud cannabinoid and terpene profile throughout the canopy.”
The team at BIOS Lighting has been studying LED effects on the physiology of both cannabis plants and food crops to better understand the genetic potential for growth. Simultaneously, BIOS has developed science-based LED lighting technology that is changing the way growers think. Understanding these nuances is the goal of the BIOS science team, which features former NASA scientists—and growers are taking notice.
If you want to understand more about how BIOS LED technology may benefit your specific cultivation facility, reach out by scanning the QR code below. BIOS can connect you to cannabis lighting and rebate experts who will work to understand your goals, guide you in overcoming challenges in your operation, and help your plants thrive in any environment!
Over the years, Cannabis Business Times has published articles emphasizing the importance of data collection and analysis in building strong, forward-thinking businesses. Both innovation and experimentation are limited without the capability to conduct an objective assessment.
That also is why CBT has conducted research studies and published reports like this “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” report, now in its sixth year. While comparing data against past results can lead to new findings, being able to benchmark your operation against industry peers can reveal potential—and missed—opportunities. You can read more about the importance of data tracking in this feature.
In this year’s “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” report, made possible with support from Fluence by OSRAM, CBT continues to delve into the cannabis industry’s lighting use, a key driver of both production and financial efficiency. This year’s study, conducted with leading third-party research organization Readex Research, asked cannabis cultivators about lighting types used at various growth stages, their plans for LED adoption in flowering (and what is preventing them from making the switch), growing with vertical racking systems, and more.
Among other findings and trends, this year’s data shows the continued growth of LED adoption across all plant stages. For the first time since this report first launched, more than 60% of growers who answered the questionnaire indicated using LED fixtures across all growth stages. In 2016, LEDs were in use by no more than 21% of growers across all growth stages.
One potential explanation behind what is driving this surge in LED fixture adoption is the ability to customize light output (in certain models). Both university researchers and experimentally minded cultivators have been investigating the impacts of various spectra and intensities on cannabis production. Mitchell Westmoreland, Utah State University researcher, and Jason Sanders, head of cultivation at Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, explore their findings in this feature here.
With the industry continuing to turn to LED fixtures, opportunities to leverage cubic square footage through vertical systems has become more appealing. This feature offers tips and best practices from Fog City Farms and Proper Cannabis for those who have added vertical farming to their operations and those considering doing so. Building on the experience of others can be a good way to navigate the potential pitfalls and mistakes that can occur with any change in production methods.
Special Report - Special Report: State of the Cannabis Lighting Market
One of the most consistent trends noticed in the historical data of Cannabis Business Times’ “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” report is the continued adoption of light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures across all stages of plant growth. In the 2021 report, LED usage grew by at least 45 percentage points in all stages of growth compared to 2016 results.
In this year’s research, 69% of participants noted using LEDs during propagation, compared to 33% who use fluorescent lights, 22% who use high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures, and 13% who use metal halide (MH) lights. (Nine percent indicated that they use a lighting type not listed in this year’s survey.)
In vegetation, 62% of research participants indicated using LEDs, by far the most-used lighting type in this year’s study. Fluorescents were the second most-used lighting type (26%), followed by HPS (18%) and MH (17%).
In flowering, 62% of growers who participated in the study indicated employing LEDs, up from 15% in 2016’s report and 52% in 2020. HPS fixtures are used by more than a third of participants (37%), while fluorescents and MH lights are used by less than a tenth of cultivators (8% and 6%, respectively).
Industry Continues Its Upward Growth
Accompanying (and potentially driving) this surge in LED adoption is the increasing implementation of vertical racks. These systems allow cultivators to use their facility’s cubic footage instead of limiting cultivation activities to the floor space.
Vertical farming in vegetation has remained fairly consistent over the years: In 2017, 31% of research participants indicated growing using vertical racks during vegetation; this increased to 37% in 2021’s research, a response in line with more recent years (38% in 2020).
Using tiers in flowering continues to slowly gain adoption, with 21% of this year’s research participants indicating growing on at least two tiers, up from 13% in 2017 and 20% in 2020. The plurality of growers who use vertical racks in flowering grow on two tiers (16%), while 22% grow on two tiers during vegetation.
The portion of growers not considering vertical farming in flowering has declined steadily over the years since this question has been included. In 2017, 59% of research participants were not considering a vertical farming system in flowering. This group dropped to 49% in 2021, potentially indicating that more growers have adopted vertical farming systems or are more open to the idea than they once were.
LED Hesitancy Dwindles, But Reasons Preventing Adoption Remain
LED adoption is expected to continue to rise as growers strive for further efficiencies, whether to maximize profitability, comply with state energy use regulations, or both. Of the research participants who currently do not leverage LED fixtures in flowering, 63% indicated they are planning to use or are considering using LEDs in the flower cycle within the next 12 months. About one-third (32%) of participants indicated having no plans to bring LEDs into their flowering spaces.
For those not considering LED adoption, the main reason remains mostly similar to years past—cost. The top three reasons cited about what is preventing LED adoption all involve capital investments into the fixtures: “challenges in securing funding/capital for LED lighting” (cited by 33% of research participants), “payback/ROI is too long” (27%), and “LED lights cost too much to install” (20%). Other common reasons include: “LED lighting doesn't work well for the plants we grow”; “LED lights are too difficult to fit in with my current racking/stacking/shelf”; “LED lights cost too much to operate on an ongoing basis”; “LED lights hurt production/yield”; and “unproven technology.” Each of these latter reasons was mentioned by 13% of growers who do not currently use nor plan to use LED lights.
Top Factors When Purchasing Lighting Fixtures
As in past “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” reports, cost is a significant factor for cultivators purchasing a lighting fixture. However, in 2020, other considerations, such as light intensity and spectrum, product warranty, and scientific research and development, ranked higher. This year, the investment piece ranked first, with 51% of research participants placing “price” in their top five most important factors guiding lighting purchasing decisions. Light spectrum (45%), energy efficiency (44%) and light intensity (40%) were other important factors noted by growers in this year’s study.
A possible sign of LEDs becoming the industry-standard fixture, more than a third (35%) of growers surveyed this year indicated that any fixtures they would considering purchasing must be LED. Comparatively, only 3% reported requiring that the fixtures be HPS.
While just missing the top-five cut, dimmable light intensity capability was another top factor highlighted by growers when making fixture purchasing decisions. More than a quarter (29%) of growers ranked dimming capabilities in their top five most important purchasing factors, and 60% noted it as “important” or “very important” to their facility’s cultivation operations.
Top Lighting Challenges Remain Consistent
Compared to last year’s report, the greatest lighting challenges cited by this year’s study participants remained unchanged, but the order was shuffled. In this year’s report, “managing energy costs” was the top lighting-related challenge (15% vs. 13% in 2020), followed by “ensuring consistent/even lighting across the crops” (14% vs. 17% in 2020), “lighting’s impact on terpene/cannabinoid content” (13% vs. 14% in 2020), “managing heat load” (10% vs. 12% in 2020), “automation” (10%, new to the list this year) and “lighting’s impact on plant growth (yield, internodal spacing, etc.)” (10% vs. 16% in 2020).
Where Cultivators Are Growing & Their Footprints
Each year, Cannabis Business Times asks participants to provide details about their facilities to gain some context for the data and to learn more specifically about cultivators who are using lighting to power their grows. Similar to 2020’s report, the vast majority of research participants indicated growing exclusively with artificial lighting as 79% of participants reported growing in an indoor facility. Meanwhile, 29% of participants rely on a mix of natural and supplemental lighting, growing in a greenhouse with supplemental lighting. (Cultivators who have multiple facility types could select more than one.)
Total growing areas varied greatly, with 21% cultivating in facilities that are 50,000 sq. ft. or more, and 14% with canopies covering less than 1,000 sq. ft.
4 Tips to Meet Consumer Demand in Growth Cannabis Markets
Departments - Upfront | Quick Tips
Adult-use cannabis has expanded on the East Coast. Here’s how businesses can prepare for this and other retail booms.
In the past year, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut have legalized adult-use cannabis. The Northeast is set to become a multi-billion-dollar market as consumer adoption rates climb up to record levels in the United States. With sales potentially starting in late 2021 in New Jersey and in 2022 for New York and Connecticut, it is imperative that brands and operators prepare for the forthcoming retail boom.
Here are four tips to ensure businesses are well-positioned to meet consumer demand on the East Coast—and in any expanding market.
1. Optimize your production team.
It will not matter how great your product is if you cannot get it to your customers. At Curaleaf, our production and manufacturing teams are always looking to implement lean manufacturing techniques, such as one-piece flow, a concept that can help to avoid delays and bottlenecks within manufacturing operations.
Having someone focused on creating a demand plan and converting it into a realistic production plan is vital—it pays to know early on if you have the input material and manpower to create what you need. If you find that you lack these resources, you can then start working on plan B.
Also, optimizing production can drive down product costs and create a streamlined retail experience for consumers as they receive a consistent supply of high-quality products.
2. Invest in reliable insights.
Businesses need to anticipate consumer demand and identify emerging product trends through reliable, accurate data. Critical retail insights that include metrics to forecast demands can allow brands and operators to decide when it is time to increase cultivation capabilities, especially in markets that have recently moved to adult-use, like Arizona, or are in the process of transitioning from medical to adult-use offerings, like New Jersey.
Operators can also use insights from comparable adult-use markets to determine what to produce and make available in stores proactively.
Although quality data can be found online for free, it may be worth paying for market research when you are able to do so.
3. Build a rapport with regulators.
Cannabis regulations can change at a moment’s notice, even in the most established markets. Therefore, fostering relationships with state-level and municipal regulators can help regulated businesses stay ahead of the curve and avoid costly delays during the transition process.
While regulations are still in the process of being written in the latest states to approve adult-use markets, it’s critical for cannabis businesses to show up to local hearings, get face-time with lawmakers, and let them see how their laws will impact local businesses. Be vocal around concerns that might negatively impact your ability to run an effective business.
4. Understand and develop your product supply chain.
Having a varied and consistent product selection is key when it comes to being successful in your retail strategy. One of the key differences between adult-use and medical retail is understanding your product mix and target audience. Develop a clear plan of what you intend on producing in-house and what you need to outsource. After making these distinctions, it’s important to vet and establish relationships with wholesale partners ahead of a market’s launch date.
Above all, keep an open mind. Cannabis businesses are competing against each other, but the more we cooperate, the more successful the industry will be. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all method to grow cannabis, so as more cultivators start coming online, consider networking and visiting their sites to see and swap best practices. East Coast consumers are looking for a wide variety of quality products to choose from, and there are myriad ways for brands and operators to meet these needs.
Patrik Jonsson is Regional President of the Northeast at Curaleaf.
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