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Ep 353 – The Largest Cannabis Dispensary in the World Just Got Bigger

bob groesbeck planet 13

Planet 13 is the largest cannabis dispensary and retail experience in the world, and it just got bigger. Here to tell us about it is Co-CEO Bob Groesbeck.

Learn more at https://www.planet13lasvegas.com

Key Takeaways:

[00:56] An inside look at Planet 13’s 112,000-square-foot cannabis superstore in Las Vegas

[2:27] Bob’s background and how he got into the cannabis space

[4:53] How Planet 13 merges cannabis and entertainment for a unique retail experience

[9:30] The organizational tools Planet 13 uses to keep its dispensary running smoothly

[16:17] How Planet 13 decides which products to offer and the best ways to display them

[17:43] Surprising new consumer habits Bob has noticed over the last year

[21:19] Bob’s predictions for when we’ll see the first national brand in cannabis

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew Kind: Hi. I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now, here's your program. Today's guest has created arguably the largest cannabis dispensary and retail experience in the world. I'm pleased to welcome Bob Groesbeck, CEO of Planet 13 Dispensary to the show today. Bob, welcome to CannaInsider.

Bob Groesbeck: Thanks, Matt. It's great to be with you.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Bob: Well, today I'm actually in Vegas. I'll be down in California tomorrow, getting prepared for our VIP opening on the 24th, and then waiting for the opening to the public on July 1st.

Matthew: Well, you got to give us a sense of how big Planet 13 is and what it is for people that don't know. I think probably at least half the audience has heard of it, but another half hasn't. Just give us a snapshot. What is Planet 13 at a high level?

Bob: Sure. Planet 13 Superstore is, without a doubt, the largest dispensary complex of its type in the world soon to be the universe. We're about 112,000 square feet under roof, and we've built out about 75,000 feet, and we're actively under construction now of about another over 25,000 feet coming online here the latter part of next month, early August. Got about 16,000 square foot dispensary. We're adding roughly that's about another 7,500 feet of floor space and, of course, all the support that goes with that.

That'll take us to about 85 registers roughly. It's all designed to be an experience. It's more than just buying cannabis. It's mine cannabis with an experience. It's all about Vegas and it's all about doing things over the top. Of course, now we're carrying this footprint into Santa Ana, California with our first Superstore outside of Nevada. I'm really excited to build that scale and that type of operation with a Cali vibe. It's completely different than Vegas other than it's grand and it's designed to really create an experience.

Matthew: I want to get into more details there in a minute, but before we do, can you just give me a little bit of a background about you and how you got into this business? What were you doing before Planet 13?

Bob: Well, I spent many years as corporate counsel primarily in the solid waste industry, and a very strong regulatory background. I had my own firm for a while. I worked in a number of firms from small firms to national law firms and really spent a lot of time again in the regulatory environment for different clients. I really tripped onto this opportunity literally because I was at a county commission meeting and waiting on a land-use item of ours to be called and really wasn't paying much attention.

I thought I heard somebody mentioned the word marijuana and that peak my interest and then there was silence again. I went back and zoned out and started reading my material for my item. There again, they raised the items start talking about a regulatory framework that needed to be adopted. I was fascinated. I walked down close to the dice, I grabbed a hard copy of the agenda, look at the backup material. I was just stunned that here we were in Nevada looking to adopt a regulatory framework for sale of medical marijuana and super intriguing.

Of course, I didn't have enough sense at that time to really understand just how complicated it would be, but I came back and talked to Larry Scheffler, my co-CEO, and my longtime partner in real estate. We started talking about this, how many times in a lifetime does a business evolve from the underground to becoming illegal? We looked at that as an opportunity to something we really needed to explore and we jumped in with both feet. Again, we were pretty naive at the time.

We didn't really understand all the nuances and the implications of Schedule 1 and 280E and all those things but we made the decision nonetheless, and here we are, fast forward, nearly seven years later, and we've built a beautiful facility and now we're expanding that model other the jurisdictions, as I said.

Matthew: This is a super large facility. You said rooftop is over 100,000. Can you talk about inside, just paint a picture of what the experience is like because we're an audio medium here and people can't visualize?

Bob: Sure. For your audience, I encourage you to go on our website. There's quite a bit of B roll there, a lot of photos that they can look at, but really the experience is designed to start as soon as you pull into the parking lot. We've got a giant planet ball that greets you with water and steam. The whole idea is to really just get you excited about what lies inside. If you come in the evening, we call it the West Wall, you'll see a laser graffiti operation, the gigantic laser graffiti, where it's unlike anything really in the industry.

We used to allow our customers spray painless a laser graffiti, but the parking lots now are so congested and full that we've had to loop that through a computer system. Then, on the rooftop, you see gigantic flowers that are multi-colored LEDs and just really vibrant and special and then you transition into this gigantic lobby. They greet you at check-in and once you get your tickets, you're allowed to move forward into the grand hallway. On the left side of the building, we've actually got a large restaurant, Trece, we've got a full bar on-site.

We've got a massive production facility further down the hallway of which about 3,800 square feet are behind glass so customers can actually watch products being manufactured in front of them. Then, there are CUNY kiosks in the hallway that you can touch, that are touchpads, that you can look at the products as they're being manufactured and find out what the constituent products are that that given runner. It's really just designed to engage you, get you excited about the facility, and what it offers.

Then you go into the dispensary and then you go through the turnstiles and you're greeted with flying orbs which we found in Germany that fly on a GPS every hour to a choreographed light show. It's again designed to create that experience. This is Las Vegas after all. We've got 3D mapping on the ceiling and then our new phase of construction that's again, as I mentioned earlier, should open end of next month, it's going to have a gigantic video wall with waterfalls and planets coming at you in 3D.

To give you an idea of the scope, it's about 80 feet by 16 feet tall. We've got Maglev technology that are going to greet customers as they come in. They're going to actually see inventory floating in space in front of them and they'll have a full 360 views. It's really just, again, designed to be over the top. We're going to bring similar experiences to Santa Ana, of course.

Matthew: This is really something that could only exist in Las Vegas in many ways or at least start out that way. Cannabis and entertainment merging, how do you come up with ideas on what you want to do here to just wow people? Is their brainstorming sessions just come to you in the middle of the night? What's the process look like?

Bob: That's a great question. It's a combination of all of that, but most of the features you see in a store are things that Larry and I have come up with or we found, and we want to improve upon the wheel. We've got a very creative staff as well. They come up with ideas that makes sense. We'll integrate that into the process. We're always trying to change it up as things move on. Like I said, Santa Ana is a completely different field than Las Vegas. We learned a lot of lessons down there or here in Vegas that we've put into place down there as far as moving people, enhancing the experience.

Again, California is different than Nevada. You've got oceans, palm trees, and surfboards, and that whole Cali lifestyle and vibe. As we go into these larger markets like Santa Ana, Orange County, we're going to pay homage to the lifestyle, both communities we go into and really play up on what makes that community special.

Matthew: This is a massive operation just organizationally. Do you use a lot of technology and special processes to manage the whole thing or do you look at it like we're managing a theme park or how do you think about organizing and managing it all so it runs like clockwork?

Bob: Well, very much so. A lot of technology has been integrated in the facility. For instance, when you check-in at the front desk, you're giving a card. It's almost like you'd see a baseball field, it's QR coded, and then you go through optic scanners, you go into the facility, then you're directed to a keyless system that basically you put your phone number in, and then it puts you into a staging queue, and that lets you know where you are in the process.

Your way could be from zero minutes when the store is not busy, all the way to an hour or more when we hit peak times like Friday evening, Saturday evenings. We're looking to shorten that up considerably with the expansion. The whole idea is to let you know where you stand in the process. Give you an example, let's say you're here on a Friday evening, it's really crowded, there's going to be a significant wait time, go across the hall, have dinner, or sit in a bar and have a drink, watch sports, do whatever you want to do, just monitor your phone, and it'll tell you what your estimated wait time is.

Then it'll ping you and say, "Go to register 36 on the floor." It's really designed to make it as convenient as we can. Our philosophy is simple. We want you to stay here as long as you want to stay. If you're in a hurry, you want to get out, we want to accommodate you there as well. If you want to spend a couple of hours in the facility and enjoy it, we encourage that as well. That's why we're bringing on the expansion of the dispensary floor. We're also adding a standalone retail center. Now, soon, we'll start construction in the museum at the north end of the complex.

Then recently, you probably follow the national media on the Nevada Legislature approved lounges. We're really looking to now design a feature that will fit in well with that whole experience and really, again, keep you here as long as you want to stay.

Matthew: Tell us what's your vision for what the lounge will be like?

Bob: Well, we're looking at it probably a little differently than others. Again, the vast majority of our customers to the superstore here in Las Vegas are non-Nevadans. They want a club-like experience. What we're trying to do is basically build it out in two sections. One would be what we call an ultra lounge where it's quieter, very high-end, luxurious, but you can talk and engage with friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Whereas if you go into the club, it'll be a true Las Vegas-type club experience. There will be a cover charge, there will be entertainment, it'll be loud, and just over the top. We're looking to provide that experience to both groups.

Matthew: You said it's mostly non-Nevadans. What is the mixer? The breakdown?

Bob: Roughly, pre-COVID, and I've qualified that a bit, pre-COVID, about 85% of our customer base here at the superstore were not Nevadans. Obviously, during COVID, that changed dramatically. It basically went down to zero and the store was closed for a bit of time as we transition to delivery only. When we did open incrementally, the vast majority of our customers were locals. Now, we're seeing that as Las Vegas is reopening, we're seeing it now trend toward that 85% range again. We think that that'll be the cases things stabilize.

Matthew: What's the general vibe in Vegas right now? Are things pretty much wide open or is it half-open, just all the casinos and surface away and all these different things?

Bob: Pretty much all open. Some of the venues, they're not seven days, maybe they're five days or whatever, but they're all transitioning to their schedules pre-COVID. It's coming together. We're really excited. The traffic volumes now are ticking up. The exciting thing about that is we're seeing a huge retail customer base coming in. We haven't really started to touch on the convention customer, those events. We'll start to trail here in Q3, Q4. We're really excited about that. We just think there's a lot of upside.

Matthew: When people come in and have the Planet 13 experience, is there anything they say to you over and over again that you use at this point? You know what the typical responses?

Bob: Well, no. I love to just sit in the grand hallway and listen to people as they come in. I give you an example. Just last week, there was a group of five people from Houston that were in. They're walking down the hallway and they just finished watching chocolate being run on the automated rotten machines there. One of the girls turns for a friend and says, "I'm in heaven." I just thought that encapsulate everything that we're looking to do. Again, it's about the experience.

Matthew: That's going to be a lot of fun just coming up with these ways to wow people. It's like a Disney experience or Pixar like how are we just going to amaze people. The bar is always being raised, I'm sure.

Bob: Right. Well, as the industry has continued to evolve and legalize, there was a stigma and there still is. There's still a lot of Americans that have no idea what cannabis is or what it's about. The fact that some really positive things come out of that, and particularly, bring it out of the underground and legalizing it, creating jobs, paying taxes, doing all that. I think we have a lot of customers that come through that are cannabis curious or maybe they're coming with a friend really who had no exposure.

Or they've been to a store where they come from where it's out in an industrial area with steel bars, and a bunch of alleys, you got to go through to get to it. They come here and I see this. Wow, this is part of a real business in a very large scale business at that and we feel safe, we feel comfortable, everything's professionally displayed. I think it sets the tone and we think that's good for everyone.

Matthew: How do you decide which products to offer and then where to put them for optimal sales and visibility?

Bob: Well, that's an entire process. We've got a buying team together and we've got merchandise display people. They work very closely together. A lot of products before they ever get into the store, the vendor that's looking to place here in the facility provides samples and they're rigorously tested by our staff. Certain salespeople, for instance, will be provided with those products, they'll sample them, they'll score them, and then we'll sit down and talk about them, the positives, the negatives. If they can pass that hurdle, then they work with the buyers on pricing.

Then placement is a whole different game. If you're placed on what we call our Gucci Row, you pay for that placement like in any retail environment. It can be very significant depending on where you're placed. That's a very involved process and it's continually evolving. As I said, as we open the new retail store or the new retail area, there will be product placement opportunities there too. In fact, a number of those spots are already pre-sold before we even open the facility.

Matthew: Are there any consumer habits that you notice that are shifting or evolving lately?

Bob: Well, yes. During COVID or pre-COVID, rather, we would see huge percentage of our sales through non-flower vehicles, whether it be vapes or edibles. Then during COVID, that completely reversed. It was a huge gravitation back to flower products. We're seeing that now that the city reopens, more tourists are coming back. We're seeing at the superstore facility. We're seeing, again, a migration back toward the more discreet usage because you're not permitted in Las Vegas to smoke in casinos or smoke THC products, for sure.

We're seeing now, again, as the tourists come back, we're seeing that migration back to the more traditional levels that we were saying.

Matthew: During COVID, it sounds like you closed for a while, but also shifted a lot to delivery. Can we talk about that a little bit?

Bob: Yes. Let's say to put it timely a challenge. We were basically given about 24 hours' notice that everything was going to close. It didn't impact just us, it was everyone across every business sector. For us, it was acutely painful because again, all of our traffic was derived from tourists customers. Literally overnight, we went from several thousand customers a day to zero. We were fortunate though that the governor allowed our industry to engage in a delivery platform. Unfortunately, we had no meaningful delivery at that time. We were running several vehicles, maybe 20, 30 deliveries a day on average. That obviously wasn't consistent in operation of the size long term. We immediately made the decision. We weren't going to close our doors. That was not an option. We made a decision to try to compete in the delivery market and cater locals. We went out and found 30 vehicles in fairly short order and have them equip and converted to handle delivery. Within probably 60 days, we were knocking on 900 deliveries a day and built up a huge delivery platform.

Matthew: Wow. What did you use for that? A custom app?

Bob: Yes, we did. Well, we utilized a couple of apps and integrated those, a route smart technology, and really built that and started improving upon it. We continue, we have a very robust delivery service today, and we're going to continue. That's one of the positives out of this whole nightmare was it really allowed us to create a revenue stream and services segment that we weren't even focused on. Our delivery in curbside programs today represent standing alone about equivalent to whatever a retail store would in revenue monthly. Very excited about how that turned out.

It was a heck of a challenge but it paid big dividends in. Really, it's a testament to our staff, and our managers, they got focused. We all realized there was a huge challenge, but we're going to do everything in our power to see it succeed and it did, at levels we didn't even anticipate.

Matthew: Bob, is there any big trends you see in the cannabis industry that you feel that most people don't appreciate how big they're going to be?

Bob: Look, I do see on the horizon here, there will be national brands like you'd see in any other industry. We're not quite there yet. I think it's still a bit choppy. The fact that we still have schedule one looming over the industry. Unfortunately, in every state, it's how you advertise, how you market to customers is completely different. Until that changes, it's going to be a challenge. I think the industry has come a long, long way in the future in a few short years, but I still think we've got a lot of heavy lifting to do.

Matthew: Bob, I'd like to ask a few personal development questions. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or a way of thinking that you'd like to share?

Bob: Well, I don't know about a book, per se. I love to read, I'm constantly reading. When I'm not focused on this, dealing with the issues of this company, I'd like to just decompress and get a good book. For instance, right now, I'm reading a biography on President Grahams. I love history, I love everything about history and I recently finished a thousand-page Home on Egypt, the Evolution of Egypt. That's just what I do.

Matthew: I wonder what anthropologists are going to say thousand years from now about Vegas.

Bob: Wow, that's going to be an interesting read for sure. Vegas is unlike anything in the world, any place. One thing about Vegas though, we've had a lot of hard lumps, but we always seem to come back and reimagine ourselves in the community and what we do and we're no different year plan.

Matthew: Is there an old Vegas spot that you think that's really cool that people may not have heard of or you can get the essence of back, the Rat Pack, or maybe an old food hunt that you think's not well known, but it really deserves a visit?

Bob: Well, it's interesting. Unfortunately, in Vegas, one thing we've not done a good job at is protecting history. Every old hotel, we demolish it and build something new. There are pockets. For instance, there are a few old restaurants in town if your viewers, your audiences in town, they want to go to an old steakhouse. There's a place called the Golden Steer off of Sahara in Las Vegas Boulevard that is truly old Vegas. It's still old Vegas place and it has good food. It's been there probably for 60, 70 years, I'm guessing.

There's an old place off of, I believe, it's Flamingo, Battista's Hole in the Wall. That's been there forever. It's rumored to have been the place for all the old mobsters used to hang out have dinner and stuff. There still are little places like that, a few of them but not far, they're few and far between.

Matthew: Another food question here, Bob, what's your favorite unhealthy comfort food?

Bob: Everything. I'm an addict for sweets. I love candy. I love cakes and pies. I try to be healthy, but I got to be honest. I go the wrong way pretty frequently. I love ice cream.

Matthew: I love the honesty. Well, Bobby, you got a lot going on here. Please tell listeners how they can find your new store in Southern California, Orange County, Santa Ana, and then how they can learn more about Planet 13 when they visit Vegas?

Bob: Sure. Viewers, obviously, you can just go to our website, planet13holdings.com or planet13lasvegas.com. Same with Orange County. You can find us anywhere on the internet there. We're at 3400 West Warner Avenue in city of Santa Ana. We're just a couple of minutes away from the beach, just probably eight minutes south of Disneyland. Right there, near the 405 and the 55. It's going to be a destination down there as well, and we encourage everyone to come have a look. This is phase one that's opening.

As soon as we open that, on July 1st, we're starting design work on phases two and three. It's going to be an amazing complex and we're real excited. Of course, in Vegas, all you have to do is get off a plane and ask a cabbie where we are mostly. We got 200 wrapped cabs alone. You want to go to the Planet, they know where we are, or you can get us off any of the social media platforms. We're here and we're 24/7, and we're all about the customer and the experience, and I'd love to have all of your audience here.

Matthew: Bob, thanks so much. Good luck with everything you're doing and the grand opening in Santa Ana.

Bob: Great. Thanks, Matt. Great to be with you. Come out and see us.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with a free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider, simply send us an email at feedback at cannainsider.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers or companies featured in CannaInsider. Lastly, the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions. Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention.

This little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

[00:28:08] [END OF AUDIO]

Ep 352 – A Wave of Capital Is Heading for Cannabis, Insider Gives Details

todd harrison cb1 capital

Is cannabis the largest investment trend of this generation? Here to tell us why we’re about to see a wave of capital move into the industry is Todd Harrison of CB1 Capital.

Learn more at https://www.cb1cap.com 

Key Takeaways:

[00:50] An inside look at CB1 Capital, a New York-based investment manager and advisor that specializes in the supply chain of cannabinoid-based wellness solutions, products, and therapies

[1:13] Todd’s background and how he came to start CB1 Capital

[3:46] How cannabis investing has progressed over the last few years and where Todd sees it heading

[6:30] What Todd is most excited about as an investor in the cannabis industry right now

[7:51] Characteristics that make for a successful MSO or multi-state operator

[10:02] Todd’s thoughts on the federal legislation timeline

[14:05] Why cannabis is the investment opportunity of this generation

[15:53] How the US compares to Canada in terms of cannabis investing opportunities

[17:41] Todd’s advice to investors looking to get into cannabis

[20:27] Who makes up CB1 Capital’s advisory board, from Governor Gary Johnson to Lorne Gertner

[22:03] Why Todd feels we’re about to enter the next stage of cannabis growth and signs to look out for

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

[music]

Matthew Kind: Hi. I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now, here's your program

Is cannabis the largest investment trend of this generation? Today's guest is going to tell us how a wall of money is about to move into cannabis. I am pleased to welcome Todd Harrison of CB1 Capital to the show. Todd, welcome to CannaInsider.

Todd Harrison: Hey, Matt. Thank you for having me.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Todd: We're in Port Washington, New York. About 40 minutes outside of Manhattan, on Long Island.

Matthew: What is CB1 Capital on a high level?

Todd: On a high-level CB1 Capital, we have our wellness fund where we invest in the global cannabis space. Then we have an advisory arm where we help companies, public and private, as well as some hedge funds and ETFs and such, navigate this exciting space.

Matthew: Todd, can you share a little bit about your background and journey and how you got into the cannabis space and started CB1 Capital?

Todd: Sure. My background is in finance. I started in Morgan Stanley. I created derivatives in '91 where I was a VP there. Moved over to the buy-side. I had various roles in Y2K. Went over to Jim Cramer shop. Ran their trillion operation. I became president in 2001 and was down there when the planes hit and the towers fell. That was really, I think the pivot unbeknownst at the time for me into cannabis because seeing the people holding hands and jumping and running from the smoke and all that, I had the wherewithal.

They put me to go talk to somebody and that somebody was Dr. Julie Holland, who as it turns out was, and is quite the expert on cannabis and really alternative therapies in general. This was back several years after 9/11. Still, I would confide in her that I was drawn to cannabis to help with the anxiety and would sleep and I was feeling guilty about that. She asked, "Why?" I told her, "Well, this is your brain on drugs, and I've learned it from watching your dad and all that." She turned me onto the science. She opened that door, that rabbit hole, if you will, for the intellectually curious.

Studied the history and the weaponization of this plant as an immigration tool, studied the science and really the endocannabinoid system and its role in regulating neurotransmissions and that retrograde pathway to wellness. Then really what a natural global free market looks like and the artificial impediments that were in the way of this moving into a taxable ground. That really began the journey that ultimately led to CB1 Capital taking shape. My partner, Loren DeFalco has experience in studying the endocannabinoid system for over a decade now.

We surrounded ourselves with who we think are really some of the best minds in cannabinoid wellness. As much as we're sitting here at the precipice of Cannabis 2.0, we really are weighing in ways for Cannabis 3.0 and certainly, the wellness attributes that are going to come out the other side of that biotech pathway.

Matthew: Todd, can you paint a picture of where you think the cannabis, where we are in this cannabis investing story now?

Todd: Yes. I think the short answer is that we're in the eye of the perfect storm. I say that after this space is rallied, had a pretty significant rally year-over-year before this latest call of four months consolidation. You take a step back with Cannabis 1.0, which is that community and cultivation story and how that was the bubble and bust of 2018. From January 2018 to March of last year, the global cannabis index that Bloomberg has, was down 92%. That was before the pandemic arrived, of course. It was a real existential moment for this space. It could have gone either way.

There was no access to capital. Persian, which is a large custodian, had pulled the plug on all things cannabis, and everybody could only sell, similar now to what we're seeing on a different level, which I'll get to, but at the time, there was really no visibility. As the virus took shape, cannabis was deemed essential. I think as the breadth and the depth of the pandemic began to self-actuate, cannabis, as a solution began to take hold, cannabis as a wellness supplement for anxiety and sleep began to take hold. Certainly, cannabis as a tax driver and employment engine in a post-pandemic world began to take hold.

That was really the, in our view, March of 2020, was that cyclical bottom within a secular bull market and certainly as Black Lives Matter in that social justice piece evolved over the course of the last year as we referred to as the slow-motion, perfect storm for cannabis, continuing into the elections with the five states sweep, both red and blue and ultimately with Schumer come January.

Although certainly I think a lot of people are frustrated right now, but through our lens, we are sitting right at the cusp of 2.0, and that'll be really triggered by that institutional adoption. It's going to require some changes to the current construct to allow investors to access these names. I think that's where we are right now, but as a statewide story, this will continue to manifest over the next couple of years.

Matthew: Are there any particular pieces of the cannabis ecosystem that you're most excited about as an investor?

Todd: I think right now the MSOs are, I think that's where you want to be. We try to poke holes in a lot of our own bullish thesis here as the plumbing for the marketplace right now is so convoluted. Obviously, I think as your audience knows or should know, you can't buy US cannabis on US exchanges. You have to go to the Pink Sheet, you have to go to the CSE, both garbage exchanges and by and large, institutions. Most retail investors, US retail investors can access these securities, if they even know the difference between US and Canadian cannabis companies.

We think that's an opportunity. We think that as these walls fall over time, and we do believe that's going to be an incremental process, these arbitragers will re-rate, these equities will re-rate. You'll see some more appropriate multiples on these securities versus right now, they're really being choked off from investors. We could debate why that is, but I think it's transitory.

Matthew: With the MSOs or multi-state operators, how do you evaluate which ones are better than others?

Todd: Well, it's a good question. I think generally, we look at it and say, there is the FANG, if you will, those four horsemen, five horsemen, five [unintelligible [00:08:14] FANG, if you will, that are emerging. Then you have the back of that totem pole or the second and third-tier guys that probably have more leverage to something like safe banking or some of these other incremental legislative initiatives that we think are going to come through the pipe. Certainly, I think the conventional wisdom would look at names like GreenThumb, and Curaleaf, and True Leaf, Cresco, TerrAscend.

Maybe throw Verano in there because they've got the scale, maybe not the operating history. Then as you start to move down, there are some really good companies. I think I said Cresco, but the forefronts of the world, the gauges of the world, these are good companies, largely operating in this inefficient market right now with a very limited investor pool. You have a lot of these arbitrage is if you will, valuation arbitrages and also regulatory arbitrages that are weighing in weight. None of which, to be honest, we're really depending on right now. We think that slow and steady wins the race. As my friend, Jason Wilde says, "You can pay us now or pay us more later."

The longer you have these artificial walls around cannabis, the more traction these companies are going to get in their home states, building these brands, building those footprints, building the scale of the company and the enterprise value of the company for when that buy-build eventually arrives, when CPG and the rest of them come to participate in the space. All of that's in front of us. It really is, it's a fascinating space right now, but it's not without its impediments.

Matthew: What if anything do you think it's going to happen from a federal legislation point of view?

Todd: Well, as we sit here, what is it, June 15th?

Matthew: Yes.

Todd: I think the market's told you now that there's going to be no sweeping federal change. I think the market trading, where it was in January I mean, literally to the tick as I'm sitting here talking with you, to where it closed the night before Schumer won the Senate majority leadership and the Democrats took the Senate. All of the expectations for federal movement through all lands have been removed.

Still, we expect incremental progress. Our way to sort of intel is that Schumer's going to attach safe plus to some must-pass legislation this fall, because as the Senate Majority Leader, he may wish to have sweeping reform. Aside from the fact that he doesn't have 50, much less 60 votes for that, he's also the senator from New York and New York is fully legal, New York has social justice programs that are coming out of the gate and the senator from New York knows that there can be no social justice without functional banking. I think that light bulb went off over the Senate in the last however many weeks that they're going to need to piecemeal this.

I think that is the best-case scenario for the MSOs and the existing operators, not the best case for all of the people who are sitting in jail for doing the things that we're getting paid to do which is a travesty. There's a lot of different moving parts here, of course, criminal justice. There's talk about moving us to a Schedule 2 versus taking it off to CSA but even moving it to a Schedule 2, it doesn't lend itself to any meaningful broad-based criminal reform.

You have to take this off of their controlled substance act and circle it like you have for cigarettes or like you have for alcohol. You leave it to the states and the other criminal justice component and then you have the social equity component at the state level. That's out ultimately with the state's rights being protected. Eventually, over time, I then will have visibility on it, interstate commerce which will shift the dynamics and certainly change some of the economics but I think by the time that all plays through, you're going to have a much larger investing universe involved with these stocks.

Matthew: How is the huge cannabis brand like the size of a CocaCola or as iconic as a CocaCola going to break through into this market when they're all essentially in state fiefdoms in a way? Is that possible? How do you see that evolving?

Todd: It's a great question. Ultimately, brands are going to be where it goes. I think everybody knows that although nobody really has a good sense on how we get there. Right now, we could argue Cookies is the best or only brand in cannabis. They do that in an interesting piecemeal way but one that certainly works but can help demonstrate what that model might look like.

I think for the first phase of adoption, honestly we more envisioned people experimenting, looking for the best quality at the lowest cost, and that helping to inform their decisions and drive those brands. Obviously, you see what Ben's doing at Green Thumb with Snoozeberry, with Dogwalkers. Things like that I think are models of what you look for in building brands.

Matthew: Do you think cannabis is the investing opportunity of this generation?

Todd: I'm pretty much betting my entire life, reputation, and all of my money on it so I sure should hope so, my friend.

Matthew: [laughs] Right. You might need a Dogwalker if it doesn't pan up.

Todd: I might need a dog because I'll have sold mine. The point is there's not many times in your life. I left after 9/11, I left Wall Street, I started a media company, it went down. I know all about the markets and helping people make better and more informed decision. During that time, I was studying and I was researching. I was fascinated by cannabis and the application agility that's going to come out of the back on the other side of these clinical trials.

We're still so early. There's still people out there that think that cannabis is more likely to cause cancer than to help solve for it. All of that is that comes through is going to illuminate the consumer curve. I think as we look back, there's only two sides of history and there's only one right side here. This plant has a 30,000 year or some odd relationship with the earth, with 10,000 years as a wellness supplement across societies, across cultures.

This prohibition, this man-made prohibition that ignored the efficacy, that ignored the wellness, that incarcerated so many people of color, it's a black stain on the soul of this country and I think it's over. It's just a matter of how it unwinds, how it plays out but cannabis is the earth's medicine. It is one of the earth's blessings and it's been villanized and weaponized and that's all coming to an end now. That's exciting.

Matthew: How do you feel Canada compares and contrasts to the US in terms of investment opportunities?

Todd: Listen, there's lots going on right now, discussions across I guess, the exchanges we can talk a little bit about another TSX's having conversations were told. Ultimately, it's going to come down to how that footprint matriculates. I think the current rate and pace all things being equal, the NSO, the big boys are more likely to turn around buy Canadian LP when they want exposure, if they even want to do that or go out and build it themselves as opposed to being able to, some of these guys that don't have the backing of a constellation or Altria are going to be able to afford the MSOs.

Every new state that comes on is like another Canada. I mean, you think about next year if Connecticut, if the special session goes through, you have the entire tristate area coming on board next year. That's a pretty big deal.

Then the year after, you're probably talking Maryland, Pennsylvania. The year after that, maybe Ohio and Florida. You can move around the states, you can move around the dates but they're all coming. They all need the money. As we research this plant and in itself avails what those of us who have been touched by the efficacy will so passionately tell you, that we're in the early stages of a multiyear circulable market. Painful for the last four months but you know what, Green Thumb went up 900%, take a third off the top over four months but chop around frustrate people. I can argue that's healthy even though it doesn't feel healthy as I'm sitting here talking to you.

Matthew: For people that are in other industries with skill sets and they want to bring them into the cannabis industry, who do you think is the best candidates to come in and add value?

Todd: Wow, it's a good question. I don't know if I have an easy answer. What I can tell you is I tell people who ask me about this and they say, well, I have no experience. I say, well, really nobody has experience. On a relative basis, if you go forth and study the science, keep in mind the endocannabinoid system was first discovered in the early '90s, it wasn't taught in medical school, still even not taught in many medical schools. The parallels between the people and the plant and endocannabinoid systems that cannabinoids found in cannabis still very much frontier science. Just now starting over the last couple of years to be taught at universities.

I have twin 17-year-olds, they don't listen to me, they don't get it, but I tell them and say if you want to never really worry about having a job, follow the science, learn about the ECS and cannabis, and there's that side. If 1.0 was about cultivation and 2.0 is about CPG and cannabis as ingredients. You think about the use cases, the end products, and the agility of the end products. Whether it's from nutraceuticals and beverages and the social lubricants side of the equation or the wellness supplements, the pet supplements, the cosmetics in vanity, the hemp use cases across biofuel and hemp cream, and plastic composites, it's going to be ubiquitous.

I tell you that and answer to your question because I do think that there's going to be a genuine need for an educated labor force across the entire spectrum. I do think this is going to be one of those things that we look back just like prohibition was repealed coming out of the Great Depression, I think the modern Great Depression or the COVID is going to see a modern-day sequel of that story, history lines. That's what we're seeing at the state level. I think the biggest possible risk is the FDA, Schumer knows that. I don't think that sees the light of day during this Congress, and I think by the next Congress, you already have the tri-state area onboard and billions and billions in tax revenues and upwards to a million jobs making it a different discussion versus the CBD story with the FDA.

Matthew: Tell us about your advisory board. You've got some heavy hitters on there.

Todd: I mean, if there's a Mount Rushmore for cannabis wellness, it's these guys and girls. Dr. Ethan Russo, Dr. Julie Holland, Dr. Jeffrey Chen, I mean, these are pioneers in the space and good at what they do, better at who they are. Governor Gary Johnson, Lorne Gertner, one of the founders of Cronos and the godfather of Canadian cannabis as he's called, we have a good team. I think beyond that, as we look around our ecosystem, we've found ourselves good partners, we know all the funds in the space, we all talk to each other, we know the analyst community, we know the management teams. I mean, the good news is that we have, right now, this is a pretty close-knit cottage community.

I think what a lot of people who miss this sit here and commiserate because I see retail on Twitter complaining about the price actioning and I listened to the smartest small-cap growth managers in the world complaining that they can't order these names. I think by the time we get to where we're going to go, this cottage industry will be industrial complex and it's just going to be different. I still think this is the easy trade. It doesn't feel like it when these things are moving 20%, 30% any given direction, but it's still the easy trade because once the institutions are on board, it's just going to get a lot harder and it's going to be a lot different.

Matthew: Will there be any signs that you feel like we're about to enter the next stage of huge growth? Is that something-- Go ahead tell us what those would be.

Todd: Just trading volumes, we'll see them.

Matthew: Trading volumes? Is the cash coming in?

Todd: Yes, I mean, I sit here and I stare at the screens, I stare at the volume because volume qualifies price, I've been trading over 30 years. The reason we are 90% in publicly traded securities is because there is zero doubt in our minds that once institutions adopt this space, they're all going to articulate those strategies through publicly traded securities just as they always have and they're going to want their monthly [unintelligible [00:22:46], they're going to want the reporting, the whole nine.

The problem with the space right now is not the business, business is great and getting better, the total addressable market is getting bigger, new states are coming on every year, even every month, a couple of months now. The issue is the queering and the custodian. I mentioned earlier, Parsian had pulled the plug at the end of 2019, really driving the knife into the back of this space, right into the pandemic, and more recently, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, CS First Boston. There's a whole handful of them, UBS.

A lot of them were never very cannabis-friendly like BAML told us a year and a half ago, I guess they sent the memo around last week that freaked people out, but the reality is this is a plumbing issue, whatever the agenda is, whatever the, follow the money.

Listen, I've been doing this a long time. These are unnatural price movements for cannabis because they're not in a free market because they have no access, they're cutting access off to the participants. If this was happening already to Wall Street bets, there'd be a revolution, because it's happening on the CSC for a handful of investors, I don't think a lot of people are paying attention, but it's not going to last forever, put it that way. These companies are trading at really attractive multiples with really exciting growth trajectories in front of them. Again, we look at it as an opportunity.

Matthew: Yes, the kind of finance and cannabis are these emerging trends in FinTech. Wall Street's getting rewired in a way. When you look at it from a 10,000-foot view, you see FinTech and crypto and blockchain, how do you see that changing the old guard or the old way of doing things and bringing in a new?

Todd: I mean, listen, disruptive tech is [unintelligible [00:24:49]. I think blockchain is brilliant. I'm a no coiner, I say that without vice or virtue, because I don't know it. I can't tell you the difference between coins and, to be honest, I've been staring at cannabis for so long my eyes are green, but the truth is, this up and coming generation, they're all cannabis-friendly, all of the opposition for cannabis has been a demographic thing for the last decade has been aging out.

You have 92% of the country agreeing that there should be some sort of legal cannabis and 92% of the country doesn't rule out anything, it doesn't agree on anything, and then you have this whole younger generation that is looking to go green and stick it to the man and the industrial complex. I mean, cannabis just checks so many different boxes plus the fact it's good for you.

I think that's the part that most people are going to get a little bit whacked out on when they realize that this isn't about vice, it's not about getting high, it's about getting well. This is really about a therapeutic response to a lot of the unmet medical conditions that are out there because we haven't been able to regulate neurotransmissions as a matter of course, I think that's going to change as 3.0 takes shape, and that's exciting. It's going to take time and markets are very, as you know, ADD, immediate gratification, pay me now, and policy takes time. You have a duration mismatch when you have 99.9% retail universe trading these stocks, it tends to be a very emotional bunch.

Matthew: Todd, I'd like to ask you a few personal development questions to get a sense of who you are personally. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your way of life or thinking that you'd like to share or you recommend often?

Todd: I think Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is the most powerful book I've ever read. I've read it a few times. I would say if I had to pick one, that would probably be the book, yes.

Matthew: I want to hear your thoughts on whether you think New York is going to rebound as the same city it was pre-COVID-19, or if it's going to change, how you think it might change.

Todd: New York always bounces back. It bounced back after 9/11, it bounced back after the great financial crisis, it will bounce back again, and will be different. I think generally, as a matter of course, there's going to be a demographic shift to the suburbs and the country, and I think that COVID helped to, obviously, crystallize that. We've seen the outsize real estate movement in the suburbs.

Certainly, a lot of unintended consequences of policy are certainly going to manifest in ways and I'm not smart enough to know, but I will tell you, if you could find companies that you believe are going to continue to demonstrate solid growth with good management teams and they're priced attractive, follow the fundamentals, right? In the short term, you have all these guys, all these traders voting on wherever this chart pattern is on, in the smallest and nearest time horizon. Over the long term, the market's going to weigh companies with good fundamentals and reward them with growth and that's where I think we are.

Matthew: Last question, Todd, what's your favorite unhealthy comfort food?

Todd: It's really just like asking me who my favorite child is, there's a lot. Anything chocolate, dark chocolate. Yes, that's my go-to.

Matthew: Well, Todd, thanks so much for coming on the show and educating us about the investment world, really appreciate it. As we close, how can listeners find out more about you and CB1 Capital?

Todd: See it at www.cb1cap.com, Charlie, Boy, the number one, Cap. You could sign up for our free daily recap. I have a Substack, Todd Harrison, and I'm on Twitter Todd_Harrison. It's not hard to find me, but if you find me, hopefully, we can make some money together.

Matthew: Great. Todd, thanks again.

Todd: Yes, sure. Thank you so much.

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Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes.

What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider? Simply send us an email at feedback@cannainsider.com. We'd love to hear from you. Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments.

Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers, or companies featured in CannaInsider. Lastly, the host or guests at CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies, entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions. Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention, this little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

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Ep 351 – Maine Cannabis Company Thrives in a New Market

brandon pollock theory wellness

Maine cannabis sales are booming after dispensaries were finally given the green light to sell recreational cannabis last fall, but this new market isn’t without its challenges.

Here to tell us about it is Brandon Pollock of Theory Wellness.

Learn more at https://theorywellness.org

Key Takeaways:

[2:14] An inside look at Theory Wellness, a small batch cannabis company with recreational and medical dispensaries in Massachusetts and Maine

[2:57] Brandon’s background in cannabis and how he came to start Theory Wellness

[4:36] Lessons Brandon learned during his time working for Harborside and how they’ve influenced his approach at Theory Wellness

[7:11] The pros and cons of being vertically integrated in the cannabis industry right now

[8:53] Why Maine dispensaries are having a difficult time meeting their supply needs

[10:25] The best selling products in Maine right now

[11:25] Unique aspects of the east coast cannabis market and where Brandon sees it heading over the next few years

[13:53] What it means to be a “small batch” cannabis company and how that sets Theory Wellness apart from other dispensaries

[15:03] How Theory Wellness is expanding into new states despite difficulties scaling a small batch cannabis company

[17:38] The inspiration for Theory Wellness’ successful new product Hi5, a low-dose THC seltzer

[19:02] How Hi5 compares to similar alcoholic seltzers in onset and overall effect

[19:59] Why Brandon believes cannabis beverages like Hi5 will surpass alcohol over the next few years

[22:26] Challenges Theory Wellness has faced in distributing their cannabis drinks

[24:02] How Theory Wellness is helping more entrepreneurs get into the cannabis space through its social equity programs in Maine and Massachusetts

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

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Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com that's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now here's your program. Hi, CannaInsiders just a quick note before today's interview gets started, that my colleague Sinead Green will be interviewing today's guest. Sinead is--

Sinead Green: Hey, Matt.

Matt: Oh, my God, you scared me. Sinead, I didn't realize you were in the sound booth.

Sinead: Sorry about that, Matt.

Matt: Sinead, since you popped into the sound booth here. This is a great time to just say hello to all the listeners since I was talking about you.

Sinead: Sounds great, I'd love to. Hey, everybody - I'm Sinead Green and I've actually been working with Matt behind the scenes for a couple of years now. I'm so excited to put on my hosting hat and really get a chance to engage with you and bring you some more great interviews. I just want to say if there's someone you'd like us to bring on the show, please feel free to email me your suggestions at sg@cannainsider.com. I'd love to hear from you and I really hope you enjoy these upcoming shows.

Matt: Gosh, I want to get a host again, now that you mentioned it, I'm thinking like huge purple velvet hat. What do you think about that?

Sinead: I think that would look great on you, Matt.

Matt: Really important, Sinead. We want you to do a good job but not better than me. Does that sound fair?

Sinead: We'll see about that.

[laughter]

Matt: All right. Everybody, enjoy this episode with the host, Sinead.

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Sinead: Nearly four years after voters approved legalization in Maine, retail stores were finally given the green light to sell recreational cannabis last year and the lines have been out the door. Here to tell us about it is Brandon Pollock of Theory Wellness, a vertically integrated cannabis retailer with some of the few licensed recreational stores in Maine and Massachusetts. Welcome to CannaInsider, Brandon.

Brandon Pollock: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Sinead: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world right now?

Brandon: Right now, I am in our office, which is super exciting. We have an office north of Boston where we spend some time when we're not on the road visiting our facilities or looking for new projects to work on.

Sinead: Oh, great. What is Theory Wellness on a high level?

Brandon: On the highest level, Theory Wellness is our cannabis project that we've been working on since 2015 on the east coast. We're a vertically integrated cannabis company where we cultivate different varieties of cannabis produce a wide variety of products and distribute that to our customers. Both adult-use customers and medical patients through our own dispensaries and we're currently located in Massachusetts and Maine.

Sinead: Great. Before I want to jump into everything about Theory Wellness, I wanted to talk a little bit about your background. How did you originally get into the cannabis space and what led you to start Theory Wellness?

Brandon: Sure, that's a great question. I've been entrepreneurial if you will, my entire life. Myself and the other founder of Theory Wellness, my business partner, Nick Friedman. We started our first company together in college, actually. In about 2014 or so, we both became aware of the medical cannabis movement that was happening primarily on the West Coast and it seemed really interesting. We saw that in Massachusetts, where we were working and living at the time, there were some discussions about medical cannabis. It had been officially legalized, but there were no dispensaries opened yet.

We decided to head out to California and do some consulting for some of the operators out there to sort of learn what this industry was all about. I began working for Harborside Health Center out of Oakland, California, which at the time was the largest and one the first dispensaries in the country. It was just a fascinating thing to see. There were so many patients coming through the door every day that we were helping. It was playing a huge role in their life. For us, it seemed clear that this would be something that would benefit people on the East Coast and was going to be part of the future there. That was the genesis for starting Theory.

Sinead: Great. I heard you mentioned you worked at Harborside, we've actually had a few people from Harborside on the show. How did that period of time influence your approach at Theory Wellness? Did you take any lessons from your time there?

Brandon: Yes, absolutely. They were one of the pioneers and we have a ton of respect for what they've done. They were truly on the forefront of bringing cannabis, as they like to say, out of the shadows and into the light. Really what that means is creating a welcoming environment for patients, testing their products for safety and potency, and just generally treating cannabis as a more open and accessible treatment option.

Certainly, it is different than other medications, of course, but just creating that environment where customers can come in, patients come in and become educated, and have a wide variety of safe products was really remarkable. Nowadays, it seems the norm because it is the norm, but back then, that was a much different approach than a lot of the other medical shops were taking.

Sinead: Definitely, and I've read that you have been a longtime advocate for the repeal of cannabis prohibition. What sparked that passion and what does it mean to you to be working at the forefront of that now?

Brandon: For us, for me, I've always been since high school, a cannabis consumer, never had any adverse effects other than eating a little too much food or maybe using a little too much and feeling uncomfortable for an hour or so. The whole discrepancy between alcohol and cannabis just from the highest level makes no sense. We went through alcohol prohibition, it was a tremendous failure.

We repealed that, of course, but then we did the same thing with cannabis. Then you couple that with how prohibition is truly been disproportionately affecting certain communities in our country and the genesis of prohibition, in many ways, had racial undertones. When you look at it with today's lens and historic lenses as well, it's just a failed policy that needs to be repealed. Cannabis should be accessible for any adult without any penalties. We're heading there, which is great, but there's still a lot of work to go.

Sinead: That's great. We'll get into your social equity initiatives that you guys do at Theory Wellness later on in the interview. You mentioned earlier, you guys are vertically integrated in both Maine and Massachusetts. What are the pros and cons of being vertically integrated in the cannabis industry right now?

Brandon: Sure, that's a great question. I would say the benefits of vertical integration, there are several, but essentially, when you're controlling your own supply chain, it allows your customers and your patients to experience exactly the products that you want to produce for yourself and for them. In other words, if you are simply a dispensary, and I say simply not in a [chuckles] simple way because even that is a tough business and I have a lot of respect for who are running dispensaries. If you only are a dispensary, you're at the whims of the wholesale market.

There might be certain strains of flowers you can purchase. There might be certain types of vapes, you can purchase or different dabs. You can't really control your own destiny as much. Being vertically integrated allows you to cultivate exactly the type of cannabis you want. It also allows you to produce new products, innovative products, which we can touch on later, we just introduced a new infuse seltzer water here in Massachusetts which has been super popular. You can really control your own destiny. All that being said, it's a lot more expensive and one of the most critical issues in cannabis right now is how expensive it is to get into the industry and how that creates a lot of barriers for entrepreneurs. It's good to be vertical. We started small and we're fortunate to be able to grow our cultivation into a larger facility, expand our manufacturing, but it certainly is a little harder to get going just trying to find the capital to do so.

Sinead: I've read it's been a bit aggravating for a lot of dispensaries up in Maine right now with their supply chain. Lots of dispensaries are experiencing some big shortages right now. Was that something you guys had anticipated going into the Maine market?

Brandon: Yes, it was an interesting launch where we received one of the first cultivation permits in the state and also opened the first retail store. There was only about a month in between those two things happening. [chuckles] As we know either, you can't cultivate cannabis in only a month. Initially, it was very slim, what we could have on the menus, and it was mainly just edible, and extract products and things like that as the supply chain caught up.

We are really happy to see that on a monthly basis there are more and more new cultivators and product manufacturers getting licensed in Maine. Maine is interesting where there's a very robust Medical program. There's a lot of infrastructures there that's starting to get ported from medical [unintelligible [00:10:02] use, but it's a lot of paperwork for folks. It's a process to learn metric and see the sale tracking systems. It's been a bit of a slow process, but the month of May was the record sales of the program up there and I expect it to keep growing through the summer.

Sinead I saw that. I saw $5 million in sales last month. That's pretty groundbreaking. What would you say in Maine, specifically, has been selling best right now?

Brandon Flower is the king as it is in Massachusetts. I think most markets still though. As we've added more concentrate options on the menu, more edible options on the menu, we've started to see the initial stages of that shift away from flower and more into the different manufactured products, which is typical to what we'd expect to be seeing as customers.

They might come into a recreational dispensary for the first time. They've only smoked flower in their life. That's their only experience with cannabis. That's what they're familiar with, but on their second or third visit, they might be eyeing that chocolate bar and say, "All right I'll try one of those." We're starting to see a little bit of a shift towards more edibles, concentrates at this point.

Sinead Great. I know I've mostly been asking you about Maine. You guys are also have dispensaries across Massachusetts as well. Have there been any surprising trends that seem unique to the East Coast or the New England area you've observed over the years?

Brandon I think it's just unique and fun about the East Coast is it is still very new out here. A lot of just culture and technology in general, it starts on the West Coast out in California and works its way east and cannabis is no different. What's really I find fun and different about the East Coast is on any given day, dozens of your customers will never have been in a dispensery in their entire life.

You get to be that first experience for them and show them what it can be like to purchase legal cannabis, what the different products are. That's something we're really fortunate to have out here where it's just so new still that we can still provide that first-time experience for so many of our guests.

Sinead Great. You guys are kind of also pioneering craft cannabis on the East Coast and that's really a new thing across the country. I've read that you take a lot of inspiration from Sam Adams and its parent company Boston Beer, which are pioneers in the craft beer industry. How would you say you're trying to emulate Sam Adams and bring those same craft standards to cannabis. Why is that important to you?

Brandon Sam Adams and now there are some other breweries in Massachusetts as well that are really impressive. Basically, created a new genre if you will, a whole new category. After alcohol prohibition was lifted, the marketplace really was a consolidated amount of your big beer companies, your Coors your Budweisers, but then Sam Adams came along and created a whole new trend about higher-end craft products that are sure they're more expensive, but they're also, they're higher quality. They taste better. They're packaged in a more aesthetic way.

When we look at cannabis right now, that's where we're trying to position our company to be both through the quality of the products and then the entire experience with educating customers, with packaging, with ensuring the flower inside the packaging is stored properly to preserve the terpenes. We're really trying to differentiate ourselves with that higher-end craft brand, which we believe is going to be a smaller portion of the market, but it's a more interesting part of the market to be in.

Sinead You guys, quality has been a pillar of yours from day one. You pride yourself in being a small batch craft cannabis company. What does that mean and how is that different from most other dispensaries?

Brandon What it means at the highest level is smaller cultivation. Our indoor cultivation facilities are, even though our stores are some of the busiest in the state, are actual indoor flower production, we have some of the smallest facilities in Massachusetts and Maine. What that allows us to do is really put a lot of attention to detail on each harvest cycle, on each plant even within a veggie or bloom run, just to really ensure that they're being cared for properly, they're receiving the right environmentals, the right nutrients. That allows us to cultivate a really nice product. We also are one of the few companies that only hand trim. We don't have any machines ever touching the buds before it gets to our customers. We try to just think of it from really from seed to sale. How can we take the most care possible with our products?

Sinead Great. With that, you guys have a lot of advantages and I'm sure if one harvest isn't may be up to your standards, you can tweak things and change things as you go. whereas other dispensaries can't. I imagine the small-batch model does make scaling a little bit tricky. What have you done in terms of navigating, scaling the company and how do you think you'll adjust that as you expand into new states?

Brandon That's a really good point. It is difficult because, since day one, we've struggled to keep up with the demand for our products and even today as we have done some modest expansions, we can't produce enough products to keep our customers satisfied. In order to help meet our customer demand at the store, is we've really developed a very good network of other vendors here in Massachusetts and in Maine where they have similar values to us. Where we're happy with the quality of the products that they're producing and are happy to also offer those to our customers. We're starting to look into new markets like New York, New Jersey. It becomes tempting to try to build a really big facility and have a lot more team members there and produce a lot more products. We need to temper ourselves and really just make sure that no matter what we're doing, we're continuing to focus on quality is as a unnecessary part of the business that can't be forgotten.

Sinead Great. You have also not only do you partner, like you said, with local farmers, but you also support farmer's markets in both Maine and Massachusetts to increase supplemental nutrition assistance programs. Tell us a little bit about that. Why is local farming so important to you at Theory Wellness?

Brandon As a wellness company, we truly do believe cannabis makes people's lives better. Whether it's a medical patient or adult-use customer, you're coming to a dispensary to feel better. It really segues well into the wellness aspects of local agriculture, eating healthy, eating local. It's not just good for the environment. It's not just good for the economy, but it's good for you. By supporting farmer's markets, we feel we're helping our mission along in general, which is just to create a happier, healthier community that we operate in.

Sinead Absolutely. That's awesome. I wanted to jump in, you mentioned your new product High Five earlier which is a low dose THC seltzer. Tell us about that and what inspired you to enter the cannabis beverage space?

Brandon This is something we're super excited about. We've been working on High Five for a couple of years now. The vision in essence is that cannabis can be used in a wide variety of ways and increasingly can and should be a substitute for alcohol. Almost every adult in the country is familiar with drinking an alcoholic beverage. It's very acceptable, it's very social, but for cannabis as consumers, we've been relegated to the sidelines a lot of times.

I get it. Not everybody likes smoke, eating a gummy is not social. It's not anti-social, it's just eating a gummy. We really wanted to get into beverages and through the brand High Five, we've created a fast-acting seltzer product that can give a customer a doseable experience that tastes delicious and is a very social way to consume cannabis. It's been very popular so far. We launched it a couple months ago and look forward to continuing to grow that market.

Sinead That's great. I read the story behind the name High Five is that the onset is five minutes, which is just insanely fast. What effect can consumers expect from High Five and how does that compare to alcohol?

Brandon That's a great point. I think that's one of the main advantages of inner integrating technology with cannabis where we are in 2021. We use a nano emulsification process with our cannabis concentrate, which essentially allows the cannabis to absorb in a person's body much quicker than a conventional edible.

Our customers will typically start to feel the effects within five minutes or so and they also dissipate quicker. Within an hour you'll have that effect circular off, which is very similar curve to an alcoholic beverage.

Sinead Very interesting. Where do you see THC seltzers, like High Five heading over the next few years? Do you think they'll really start to rival alcohol?

Brandon: I really do. I would be bold enough, I think, to predict that long-term, they will outpace alcohol because we're moving towards a healthier society, a more health-conscious society, and being able to have a social beverage where you don't have a hangover, you don't consume calories. You're consuming only all natural products is it's an obvious alternative to alcohol. Once it becomes more accessible to every adult. Right now, the main thing that's holding back cannabis beverages is just that beverages are really hard. You need big trucks, you need big facilities, you need to store millions of cans. It's a whole different business model than any other cannabis product. It's challenging to get that going but I think once Theory Wellness and other companies start to really understand the beverage space, I think the impacts are going to be tremendous.

Sinead How did you guys land on the concentration that you use for Hi Five and what is the potency for a Hi Five THC seltzer?

Brandon Hi Five right, now we have what we call a micro version, so Hi Five micro, which is similar maybe to your bud light if you're going to make that stretch of an analogy. That's targeting around a two or 2.5 milligram dose of THC, and then we have the more conventional Hi Five , the standard dose, which is five milligrams. We were looking to create two different options for folks with nano emulsification. The experience tends to be a little stronger, a little quicker, of course than a normal edibles, so five milligrams might feel more like a 10 milligrams, some people. We think it's a really good social dose and especially with the micros heading into the summer, we wanted to create a product that was sessionable that people could enjoy a couple of them out of barbecue and not potentially overdo it. That's where we are now. We're going to probably continue to innovate, introduce some new dosages, some blends with different other cannabinoids. There's really a lot of exciting things that we can do with the brand.

Sinead How have you guys gone about navigating distribution for Hi Five outside your own Theory Wellness dispensary's? Have there been any challenges there?

Brandon: There's been a lot of challenges. Beverages, as we were talking about earlier, the beverages are tough. They're heavy, they're big, they're bulky. We've had to purchase different types of vehicles, box trucks, delivery vans, things like that, just to help distribute these products. Then also we have to be on the road a lot because they take up so much more space when most of our wholesale vendors were building their storage vaults in their dispensary's, they weren't thinking about storing drinks, thinking about storing dummies or pre-rolls, which take up maybe a 10th of the space. Space and weight are really challenging right now for beverages, because unlike a liquor store, unlike a beer company, we can't just buy another truck. We can't just store things in the hallways. We're super regulated. All of our vehicles have to be registered, inspected by the state of Massachusetts storage has to be in very specific areas and people's stores. It's definitely some growing pains that we're navigating right now as we try to expand beverages.

Sinead I want to move onto your sustainability or your social equity initiatives. You touched on that earlier, but I know that's a huge part of what you guys do. I wanted to really dive into that here. Tell us about your program theory cares and why this is important to you. Why do you think this is going to really impact the industry for the better going forward?

Brandon: I do appreciate that. I think from our view, we've done from what we feel is the bare minim and we want to keep doing much more to give back and contribute in meaningful ways. We certainly acknowledged that the war on drugs has been not just a massive failure, but has been really negatively affecting certain communities of color for decades here in the US and Massachusetts is not immune to that pain. What we've done at theory is we've created an in-house social equity program, where we decided that instead of hosting different job fairs or educational seminars, we really wanted to help an entrepreneur get going in cannabis. We did a process where we interviewed dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs. All of them were certified by the state of Massachusetts as economic empowerment applicants, which essentially means their backgrounds are from communities that were disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.

We're really fortunate to find and start working with the Legal Greens teams. This is a business run by Vanessa and Mark. They've been really awesome to work with. We've helped provide them financing and mentorship. Over the last couple of years, it's really provided them the help they need to open their dispensary, or they can do 99% on their own but that 1% that we can help provide just through already walking down that I think has been helpful for them. We're really proud that they recently opened their first dispensary in Brockton here in Massachusetts. It's been a great success our program. We're going to be opening up to a second round really soon.

Sinead Very cool. One last question, before we jump into some personal development questions. What is one thing going on in the cannabis industry right now that you think will have a big impact, but maybe is a little under appreciated right now?

Brandon: That's a great question. The easy one for us to say is beverages, because it's still such a small part of the market, but I think it's going to be huge. I think even though it's getting a lot of press, I think the real movement we're seeing at the federal level is starting to get or maybe it's not getting the attention that it deserves in the right way, but I think it's going to be really interesting to see how businesses in the next couple of years start to position themselves for federal prohibition. Right now we have a really interesting marketplace in the US where in every state that a company operates and they have their own production facilities, their own distribution, their own dispensary's. There's going to be some day in the near future where cannabis grown in California can be shipped to Massachusetts, then how is that going to start to change all these investments people are making right now or we're contemplating right now. I think continuing to really think about the future is going to be important for everybody in the space to make sure that things are being positioned in a thoughtful way.

Sinead That's a really good point. That wraps up the bulk of the interview. I did want to jump into just a couple of personal development questions though here for you, Brandon. The first one, is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking you'd like to share?

Brandon: A book? I'm trying to think if there's been a meaningful. I wouldn't say a book that necessarily jumps to mind off the top of my head.

Sinead This can be anything really, if it's a documentary or anything?

Brandon: I think one of the things that's been really impactful is when I was in college I studied philosophy. Thinking about how great thinkers 100s, if not 1000s of years ago looked at what the problems, and then trying to reconcile their thought process with where we are as a country these days, I think is something we always try to think about. One of my favorite quotes is the more that you learn, the more you realize you don't know anything essentially. [chuckles] We try to weave that into our daily life because it's true. There's so much out there. It's really important especially in cannabis to keep this an open mind and try to keep learning every day because things are changing, there's new technology, there's new information. We're really just scratching the surface. I'd say having a philosophical outlook on life and business has been very helpful over the years.

Sinead Absolutely. Brandon, I've got a real hard hitting question here for you. What is your favorite unhealthy comfort food or guilty pleasure?

Brandon: I'm going to have to go with Chinese food is my classic go-to Montre when once every couple months I'll just get that craving and it can only be satisfied by some big greasy Chinese food. That's just how it goes sometimes.

Sinead I am right there with you. I love some good Chinese food. [chuckles] As we close, how can listeners find you online and connect with you?

Brandon: Our website is theorywellness.org, and we're all over the social media too is Theory Wellness and we'd love to connect with our current guests and new customers alike. Feel free to get in touch.

Sinead Great. All right. Brandon, thank you so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it and wish you the best of luck with everything going on in the rest of 2021.

Brandon: Yes, thanks so much for having me. It's been great. Great talking to you today.

[music]

Matt: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guest to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for awesome guests on CannaInsider, simply send us an email at feedback@cannainsider.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Emotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers or companies featured in CannaInsider. Lastly, the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the company's entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions.

Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention, this little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

[00:31:55] [END OF AUDIO]

Ep 350 – Insider Details Important Changes To The California Cannabis Market

Khurshid Khoja greenbridge

California is the world’s largest cannabis market, and that means navigating everything that’s happening on the legal and regulatory front can be tricky. Here to help us is Khurshid Khoja of Greenbridge Corporate Counsel.

Learn more at http://www.greenbridgelaw.com 

Key Takeaways:

[00:54] An inside look at Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, a California business and regulatory law boutique that provides industry-focused legal expertise to cannabis companies

[1:24] Khurshid’s day-to-day interfacing with Sacramento regulators and politicians to help his clients see what’s just around the corner

[3:54] California’s provisional licensing crisis and where Khurshid sees things heading over the next year

[7:53] How Governor Newsom’s potential recall could affect California’s cannabis industry

[9:14] The Budget Trailer Bill and why it’s important

[12:24] Why Khurshid believes California’s regulatory landscape will evolve to become much more streamlined over the next few years

[15:29] The pending legislation around veterinary cannabis products

[17:17] The current regulation and taxation for non-cannabis cannabinoids

[20:08] What Sacramento regulators are saying about delta-8 THC, a hemp-derived cannabinoid that some states are banning due to its close relation to delta-9 THC

[26:30] What California business owners are excited about right now and the big opportunities that lie ahead

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now here's your program.

California is the world's largest cannabis market. Navigating and understanding everything that is happening on the legal and regulatory front can be tricky. That's why I've invited on Khurshid Khoja, founder of Greenbridge Law to help us understand the latest in California cannabis from a legal and regulatory level. Khurshid, welcome back to CannaInsider.

Khurshid Khoja: Thanks so much, man. It's a pleasure to be back.

Matt: Give us a sense of geography, where are you sitting right now?

Khurshid: I am sitting in my office and warm sunny Sacramento.

Matt: Just a quick reminder for new listeners, what is Greenbridge Law on a high level?

Khurshid: Greenbridge Corporate Counsel is a regulatory and business law firm that's focused on the psychoactive cannabis, hemp, and cannabinoid industries. We represent businesses up and down the supply chain, primarily in California. Our clients includes several large publicly traded multi-state operators as well and smaller mom and pop businesses as well as up and coming social equity businesses.

Matt: Great. Listeners to understand what your day-to-day is, really involved in the California market deeply. As you mentioned, you're in the Sacramento area right now. Can you give just a snapshot of what a typical month looks like, what you do?

Khurshid: Sure. I'd say the last month is fairly typical. I'll give you some of the highlights from the last month. The past month I spent a lot of time advising a publicly traded MSO social equity fund on their investments into social equity businesses in Oakland and Los Angeles, conducted legal due diligence into their licensing and regulatory posture in connection with that. I've advised clients on regulatory disclosures to state and local licensing agencies related to mergers and acquisitions activity, as well as going public transaction. One of our clients went public on the Canadian exchanges.

I've assisted various clients with state local licensing applications and renewals, advised clients on regulations applicable to various consulting and management services agreements. I've advised the pharmaceutical company on state and federal laws applicable to research and development. Using biosynthesized cannabinoids. I've assisted C-level executives at cannabis companies on various matters, including business immigration matters.

Just had something where I had to look deeply into US Customs and Border Protection policies. I've had discussions with the governor's office of Business and Economic Development regarding the upcoming licensing agency consolidation here in Sacramento. I've chaired a meeting of the board of directors of the National Cannabis Industry Association. I serve as their chair currently and participated in multiple discussions on the status of pending and future federal legislation.

I'm currently preparing for something fun, I get to teach a continuing legal education seminar for California NORML, where I'll have an opportunity to dialogue with our current chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Control, Tamara Colson, and also present on a panel discussing the status of federal legalization. That gives you some of the highlights in the last month.

Matt: Wow, that's great. You have good recall, too. If someone asked me what I did this weekend, there'd be a 30-second pause before I could answer, Khurshid.

[laughter]

You got all the bullet points down. Let's just jump right in. There's a crisis right now with provisional licensing. Why is that important and what do we need to know?

Khurshid: Sure. Yes, provisional licensing was an accommodation that was made to businesses in the state who were having trouble getting their local jurisdictions to complete the licensing process. A lot of local jurisdictions have pretty stringent licensing requirements, but they don't necessarily have the funding and the human resources to actually get it all done in a timely manner.

In addition to licensing requirements, there's all sorts of environmental requirements including CEQA, and in order to get a permanent annual state license, you have to have your local license in hand. You have to be able to show, "Hey, I'm right with Jesus at the local level, and I've got everything squared away here." Businesses that were applying for state licenses were not able to show that because local jurisdictions don't have what they need to get all these businesses licensed.

Provisional licensing was implemented essentially to give these businesses something in hand to be able to show investors and other folks who are interested in this status of the business. They couldn't quite operate with a provisional necessarily, but it was something. As soon as they got their local stuff squared away, they would be able to move into the regular annual license.

That program is actually sunsetting or would sunset, but for actions that the governor's office is going to be taking in their trailer bill. That could all be over if this program is not extended, if there aren't further accommodations made to these businesses that are applying for licenses, and if the local jurisdictions don't get some help with clearing the backlog of local licensed applications.

We are going to run out of the solution that we have right now if it's not extended, and local jurisdictions don't seem to be-- Yes, some are doing better than others. There's some really exemplary jurisdictions that I'm a big fan of. I'll say, San Leandro, I really enjoy working with them. I enjoy working with some other regulators as well, but a lot of them are struggling. It's having a downstream waterfall effect on state licensing. That's the quandary that businesses find themselves at right now.

Matt: Wow. What do you think the most likely outcome is going to be? I know you don't have a crystal ball, but what do you think's going to happen?

Khurshid: I think there has to be an extension on provisional licenses. That is, essentially what the governor's office is trying to do is to extend the time through which they can grant provisional licenses. I think they're shooting for at least a six-month extension. It's going to end this coming January. They're trying to stretch that out further, and also loosen up some of the criteria so that you can show progress to the state and get your provisional without having to get everything done at the local level, if the the hiccup is at the local level.

The trailer bill, which I'm sure we'll talk about, as well, has that extension in there. That could help us. It's a band-aid. The real solution is the locals getting their backlogs cleared. Hopefully, that will happen as well with some of the additional funding that's going to go to these jurisdictions to help them through that.

Matt: I've read that Governor Newsome may be recalled. Where is that on a high level and what's your opinion of the most likely outcome there?

Khurshid: Yes. To me, right now, it doesn't seem likely that that is going to succeed. Personally, I sure hope it doesn't as a cannabis industry advocate, because the governor has been a very strong advocate for the industry. He was a big backer of Prop 64. I'd like to see him stay. I'm sure a lot of people in the industry share that desire. Right now, it doesn't seem like there are any serious challenges to the governor. We've got a couple of Republican candidates. We've also got a couple of MAGA type candidates as well that are in it to be disruptive. I don't see that as happening. I'm hoping that come June that-- I'm sorry, come December, that the governor will still be in office and we will go on with business as usual.

Matt: You mentioned the budget trailer bill, what is that, and what do we need to know there?

Khurshid: The budget trailer bill comes out-- Every budget cycle, the governor puts forth a proposal for how we're going to allocate funds among various state agencies and state programs. The reason why this trailer bill, in particular, is so momentous for the industry is that it includes a proposal to consolidate all three of the state licensing agencies. Right now we've got the Bureau of Cannabis Control, we've got the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch at the California Department of Public Health, and we've got Cal Cannabis at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

In addition to that, we've also got CDTFA, which does the tax collection, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. We've got other agencies that perform various tasks in the industry as well, but those are the big ones. The three licensing agencies all have their own sets of regulations. They don't always match up. The way that one agency defines who is an owner isn't the same as the way another agency defines it.

It creates a very cumbersome licensing system for the state's industry, especially those companies that are vertically integrated and work up and down the supply chain. They have to get multiple different licenses and they have to apply to these different agencies to get that, and they have to deal with different regulators for each different facility that they have licensed.

The governor's proposal is to create from these three agencies, a department of cannabis control that would replace the three licensing agencies, and then the new licensing agency would essentially pass consolidated regulations as well. There wouldn't be this issue of variance between the regs for each of the licensing agencies and each of the license types. That's really the big headline from the trailer bill.

There are a lot of other great things that the trailer bill does, including creating a director for social equity, Deputy director for social equity, and extending indefinitely funding for support of local jurisdictions that have social equity programs. There are a number of other things that the trailer bill does as well. Obviously, it clears up a lot of the regulatory complexity by wiping out a lot of provisions that have to deal with the different agencies and just vesting all that authority in the department of cannabis control. Those are the big headlines of what the trailer bill does.

Matthew: Wow, that sounds like a lot. If I was a California business operator, this would cause me a lot of anxiety. Do you think if you were to look into the future, a few years, this is going to be a lot more streamlined and less friction?

Khurshid: Yes, I think so. That's certainly the hope. While, yes, it can produce a fair amount of anxiety because we're going to have to go through rulemaking again. That's a pretty arduous process. The rulemaking, that's going to occur in the first instance. The new department is also going to suspend some of the procedural protections that licensees might have in terms of the rulemaking process itself. The new agency won't necessarily have to publish in advance what it's planning to do for emergency regulations, for temporary regulations for the first six months to a year.

They basically built into this trailer bill, "Hey, we're not going to follow this process. We are going to follow the regular rulemaking process once we get past this emergency phase." For now, the agencies are going to attempt to identify where there are conflicts in their existing regulations, clearing those conflicts up, rationalizing the system a bit more, getting rid of some of the requirements that are currently in the regs that cause a lot of friction in terms of getting licensed and also keeping your license.

For example, what I'm reading is that they may do away with fingerprinting, and instead allow the agency to go in and enquire with state, federal, and local law enforcement on criminal background checks. That could really alleviate a lot of stress going forward. You're not having to guess as to what a regulation means because they've had a chance to clarify it. I think that's also going to reduce quite a bit of stress.

Initially, yes, I think people are going to feel very anxious about it, but I think long-term everyone knows that this is a very good thing. It's going to reduce the regulatory burdens and costs on operators. Frankly, I hope it takes a lot of work off my plate. There are a lot of interesting things that I get to do. Having to tangle with licensing agencies on ownership disclosures isn't the most interesting. If we can get rid of some of those tedious requirements, not do away with them, but just rationalize them make them simpler, I think everyone's better off.

Matthew: There's some pending legislation around veterinary CBD. Can you tell us about that?

Khurshid: Sure. The veterinary space is a really interesting one. Not just CBD, but also other pending bills as well that would essentially incorporate veterinary products into the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. Right now veterinary products are not contemplated, and these are products that include THC. If you're a veterinarian, you could lose your license potentially for advising a patient's owner on administering cannabis to their pet.

There's a bill AB 384, I believe it is, that would essentially protect veterinarians and allow them to do that. AB 45 is the bill that's on veterinary CBD that would essentially say, "Hey, for non-cannabis products, for CBD derived from industrial hemp, putting these products into veterinarian preparations is not going to "adulterate" those preparations." It's still going to be illegal to sell those. Right now, it's arguably not legal to sell those. Those can be deemed adulterated because CBD is not approved as an ingredient. These bills would essentially make it safer both for veterinarians to advise on THC in cannabis and CBD as well and also to manufacture these products and to regulate them properly as well.

Matthew: Talk a little bit about the regulation and taxation for non-cannabis cannabinoids. I think this means non-psychoactive cannabinoids and what insight to have around this. You talked about that for veterinary CBD or veterinary regulations, but how about just in general?

Khurshid: Yes, so non-cannabis cannabinoids that I consider it to be not just the non-psychoactive cannabinoids, but any cannabinoids not derived from marijuana. Derived from industrial hemp. I'm not aware of any other plants that produce cannabinoids so I think that's what we're really talking about is industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids. Currently, in MAUCRSA, there is no pathway to be able to use cannabinoids derived from anything other than psychoactive cannabis or marijuana.

There have been manufacturers and operators that have wanted to either incorporate hemp CBD or sell hemp CBD and they have not been able to do so because it's not within the ambit of MAUCRSA, it's carved out. The current regulations don't allow licensees to actually incorporate hemp CBD or any other hemp cannabinoids into their supply chain, even though it might be significantly cheaper than extracting them from psychoactive cannabis. There hasn't been a pathway for that.

There are a couple of bills that would create this pathway for hemp-derived cannabinoids, not only to incorporate them into the supply chain for folks who are licensed under MAUCRSA but also generally as well to allow for the incorporation of hemp CBD and hemp-derived cannabinoids into other foods, cosmetics, supplements, veterinarian products that are not sold by a MAUCRSA licensee. Just out in the general market.

AB 1435 is the one that creates a pathway for MAUCRSA licensees to incorporate hemp-derived cannabinoids, and AB 45 is the one that does this more generally. In each of these instances, there's going to be testing of these cannabinoids, may be taxation of these cannabinoids as well. Again, this is an effort to create a pathway for these hemp-derived cannabinoids. It doesn't address any of the biosynthesized cannabinoids, but it does address hemp-derived cannabinoids.

Matthew: Everybody's familiar with THC which is also called Delta-9 THC, but now there's Delta-8 THC products out there. Some states are banning this. What's the general mood around Delta-8 THC in Sacramento and California at large?

Khurshid: I think amongst operators, there is a concern, because, again, when people talk about Delta-8 THC, they're talking about THC derived from hemp. Again, they're assuming that because the hemp legislation at the federal level calls out Delta-9 in certain places that it doesn't apply, that the prohibition on the volume of THC allowable in industrial hemp, that it doesn't apply to Delta-8 or that somehow Delta-8 THC is not prohibited under federal law, that the hemp bills-- I'm sorry, the hemp legislation at the federal level completely legalizes that.

That does not seem to be what the DEA thinks, however, because when you look at DEA guidance on what they consider to be prohibited and THC is prohibited, they include all variants of THC. Delta-8 would be included in that. There's a publication called the Orange Book that the DEA puts out that goes into a lot of detail about the various different controlled substances that are banned under the CSA. If you look at THC, they include not just Delta-9 but all variants of THC.

The issue at the federal level is, is this really lawful? Is there actually a carve out for Delta-8? A lot of folks would argue, no, there isn't. At the state level in California, again, the concern among operators is, "All right, we have all these folks who're selling THC products essentially outside of the regulated system without a license, without any testing, without any taxation, and this is unfair, and it creates public health issues as well."

Presumably, if some of these non-cannabis cannabinoid bills are passed, that would address some of the issues, some of the concern, and that you could have Delta-8 incorporated into the supply chain and tax it and test it and ensure that a lot of the problems that would otherwise exist without regulation are addressed. I think the hope is that "Hey, no one wants to deprive anybody else the benefits of Delta-8 THC but we also want to ensure that it's safe and that it's not going to undercut the regulated tax they market."

Matthew: Let's talk about tax relief a little bit. Any good news there?

Khurshid: Yes. There is legislation pending currently at the state level that would essentially relieve licensees of penalties in the event that they aren't able to pay cultivation excise taxes on a timely basis, as there are a lot of reasons why that hasn't happened. This bill would essentially eliminate the penalty for licensees while maintaining the penalty for anybody who's operating without a license. The reason why again this is important is that the tax system in California is quite tedious and very inefficient and imposes a lot of regulatory costs on operators.

You've got a cultivation tax that has to be passed from the cultivator to the manufacturer to the distributor and then remitted by the distributor. You've got an excise tax that has to be remitted by the retailer to the distributor. The distributor needs to factor that into sales ahead of time. There's a lot of record-keeping, a lot of back and forth, a lot of places where this could go wrong as well.

We had a lot of instances, for example, of distributors selling to retailers on terms, and then the retailers not paying them. Not only not paying them for the product but also not remitting the tax, the excise tax that is due. Guess who's on the hook for that? It's the distributor who's offered terms to the retailer. They still have to pay and remit excise tax and saying, "Hey, the retailer stiffed me," isn't going to cut it. It doesn't give them the relief that they need. As a result, they get slapped with penalties for that as well even though it's not their fault and they have tried to get payment for goods.

There are various proposals being floated about consolidating the taxes. Beyond this penalty relief bill, there's talk of folding the cultivation tax into the excise tax. There's talk of having-- because the retailers already collect sales tax for example, why not just have them collect the excise tax and remit the excise tax rather than paying it to the distributor when they buy the goods? Pay it in advance essentially. Let them collect it, and record it, and pay it just like they do with sales tax.

Whether or not that is a net positive for the industry I think it depends on whether you're a retailer or a distributor or where you are in the supply chain but I think definitely those proposals I'm hoping to see them advanced. A lot of folks in the industry are because this is one of the key things that we need to get right if this system is going to survive and if we are going to beat the illicit market and outperform it. We need to have a rational tax system that is not going to create as many problems.

Matthew: Khurshid, you talk to a lot of cannabis business owners and operators in California and nationally, but what is one big opportunity they're seeing? Conversely, what's one thing that keeps them at night?

Khurshid: I think the fact that we still have a lot of illicit operators, that's something that obviously keeps folks up at night. We've talked about some of these other supply chains like the hemp-derived cannabinoids not being regulated. That obviously keeps them up at night. I think that this consolidation of the licensing agencies and this pending legislation that we've got is going to certainly rationalize their business structure. It is going to give them a lot of opportunities to grow and scale. I think that's it's not one opportunity, it's what the future holds in terms of the regulatory system. I think it's not, it's weird to think about that as an opportunity but it is an opportunity to get it right.

From a regulatory lawyer's perspective, the big opportunity is this coming rulemaking and ensuring that we have a say. Even though we've got these emergency regs coming up, we've got a say in how things move forward. Even with the emergency regulations in place the agencies and the soon-to-be the single agency they're still listing, they're still very responsive to operators especially when big groups of operators come together and press their case. I think this is a big opportunity coming up to restructure the market and to create a lot of efficiencies here and essentially a lot of gains from that.

Matthew: Khurshid, I'd like to transition to some personal development questions. What is one trend or development you see in the cannabis space that you feel like people aren't fully appreciating how big it's going to be or how disruptive it's going to be or the impact it's going to have?

Khurshid: We've talked about this, you and I talked about this before in terms of the application of blockchain and cryptocurrency to the industry. Folks have been talking about this in terms of a solution to the banking issues that the industry has. What if we all use bitcoin? Previously, because the regulators didn't know a whole lot about bitcoin, didn't know a whole lot about cryptocurrency, they just described ill intent to it. It is true that people have used cryptocurrency for illicit transactions. Without a doubt, yes, that's happened, but that's not the only thing that happens with cryptocurrencies.

I think that that space is going to change our space in a massive way, especially after we finally get descheduling at the federal level. Once we get descheduling at the federal level, things like a cannabis futures market are going to be a reality. When we have interstate commerce, we'll be able to have true futures markets at the national level and then at the international level, as well as rollback prohibition internationally.

Think about the application of NFTs, think about the application of decentralized exchanges, think about the applications of DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization. We're already seeing transformations in corporate law. I think Wyoming just passed a DAO LLC bill, that essentially gives the green light to form DAOs and have some limited liability protection for folks who are invested in that DAO.

I think about how all of these technologies are going to create the market of tomorrow and it's very exciting. It's going to transform regulations. When you don't have owners per se, you don't have C-level executives running a company, it's run by the DAO, that's going to be huge. You already see at this point, like I got to work with a client that was evaluating an investment into a social equity entrepreneur that is doing cannabis NFT's, so-called Digital strains. Very exciting stuff. I'm just enthralled by all that, and I'm very excited about what this is going to mean especially post descheduling.

Matthew: This is really an interesting time especially the mash-up of these things is they come together DAOs, blockchain cryptocurrencies in cannabis. It's just going to be crazy. Everything is accelerating so fast. It's fun, but it's also like Star Trek warp speed a little bit.

Khurshid: Yes, it can be hard to keep up, but that's what keeps it fun too. There's always so much to learn and you can easily spend hours and hours and hours developing your knowledge on that space and thinking about the application in the cannabis industry.

Matthew: Khurshid, last question. What is your favorite unhealthy comfort food or guilty pleasure?

Khurshid: Oh, man, it's hard to choose but I guess, pizza and whiskey if I had to choose. Pizza is definitely one of my favorite things being a Chicagoan, but it's also one of the worst things I think that paying a healthy weight, and whiskey, that kind of speaks for itself. I love bourbon but too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

Matthew: Well said. Everything in moderation, but including moderation once in a while you have to go crazy.

Khurshid: That's right.

Matthew: Khurshid, let listeners know how they can get in touch with you. If you have a cannabis business or who your clients would be that could reach out to you and say, "Hey, I need help in the legal arena." How can I connect with you?

Khurshid: Sure. I'm not a big marketer but I do have a LinkedIn profile where folks can find me pretty easily. Our firm has a website, the Greenbridge Corporate Council website is just greenbridgelaw.com. It's a dot com for now. It's going to be dot crypto in the next year just as a teaser. Right now it's greenbridgelaw.com and that's our website. You can connect with us there and occasionally I'm on Twitter, but not a whole lot.

Matthew: All right. Well, Khurshid, thanks so much for coming on and giving us a brief of what's going on with California and cannabis. Really appreciate it. Man, there is so much going on. We really needed that digest version. Well done, and look forward to the next update.

Khurshid: Thank you very much, Matt.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guest to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes.

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