Why You Need to be Careful Using Cannabis Hashtags on Instagram

If there’s one thing that we all know by now, it’s that Instagram is just not a fan of the cannabis industry. Everything from its algorithm to its privacy controls are on the prowl for cannabis-related content, waiting to shadowban or shut down accounts.

In fact, something as small as hashtags could put you at risk of getting your cannabis Instagram account disabled

From tried and true platforms like Instagram and Twitter to newer ones like TikTok, hashtags are an important part of social media strategy. Clicking on a hashtag leads to a gallery or feed of posts using that particular hashtag. For instance, #cannabis on Instagram will show you the top and latest posts in which someone tagged cannabis. 

This gives users the ability to explore related posts on platforms and connect with others who have the same interests. In other words, when you use the right hashtags for your brand, your content becomes searchable and more easily discovered by new audiences, translating into account growth.

While there is no denying the benefits of implementing a hashtag strategy, there is a lot to keep up with, particularly on Instagram. Since its inception in 2010, the app has constantly made changes to the best practices of using hashtags.

What are the recent changes to Instagram hashtags?

In the early days, brands and creators would hashtag every word they could think of, regardless of its relevance to the post or their business. Nowadays, hashtags need to be thoroughly researched before use – or the algorithm will dock points against you.

The answers to common questions around Instagram hashtag strategy such as where to put the hashtags, how many to add, and how to know which ones to select are regularly changing. In fact, best practices have changed more than once in just the past couple of years. In 2021, it’s even changed more than once in a matter of months! 

For instance, earlier this year, it was considered better to add hashtags in the comments instead of the post caption itself. This not only made brand posts more ‘clean’, but it was also seen as more accessible as it would prevent a string of words being read aloud for users with screen readers. 

However, in a more recent post by Instagram explaining how the search feature works, they share that “For a post to be found in Search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments.”

What’s more is that the app has started a new wave of commitment to safety and privacy. Since the 2020 U.S. elections, Instagram has been banning and hiding hashtags to help stop the spread of false information or inflammatory content.

While the initial intent might have been coming from the right place, the censoring of hashtags has created an additional obstacle for content creators and small businesses – particularly those in more restricted industries, such as cannabis.

Using banned hashtags can significantly set your account back from non-cannabis counterparts. Any account that uses banned hashtags – whether that’s #snapchat or #cannabiscures – will not only restrict the particular post in question from being shown to your followers and other app users, but it may also internally flag your account for its content. 

In combination with its newer features, like Sensitive Content Controls, one wrong hashtag could make it a lot harder than it already is to gain traction online. Moreover, as Instagram increases scrutiny on cannabis-related content, banned cannabis hashtags are likely to have a greater risk for your account and therefore, for your social media strategy.

What hashtags should cannabis accounts be using?

Selecting the right hashtags is half the battle on Instagram. We recommend doing manual hashtag research regularly (about once every other month or more frequently) to:

  1. Keep tabs on popular, relevant hashtags in your community;
  2. Ensure that the hashtags you use are not being banned without your knowledge

Hashtags work similarly to SEO keyword research. In addition to helping you brainstorm different content ideas, you’ll also gain an understanding of which hashtags are popular and how likely it is for you to gain popularity under them.

For instance, let’s say you want to gain awareness for your CBD skincare products on Instagram. 

If you use the hashtag #cbd, you’re competing with 13.8M other posts. Whereas if you use #cbdskincare, you are not only getting more specific, but you’re only competing with 352K other posts. 

In this case, the “most popular” hashtag is not necessarily worth it for your account. Depending on your following size, your ideal target range of hashtag volume will vary. When we conduct hashtag research for our clients, we spread the 30 Instagram hashtags out to get a healthy range of volume and focus the majority of the hashtags on those that align with where your unique account and audience. This will ensure your posts get the recognition they deserve. 

To check if a hashtag has been hidden or banned, search your tag into the Instagram search bar with a ‘#’ and pay close attention to the results and search predictions. 

If a tag does not come up with a result, it is likely that it is banned altogether. For instance, there are no results found for ‘#cannabisheals’. However, if a tag appears, it is still important to investigate it further. Many hashtags are hidden by Instagram and will be noted as such in the search results.

While not all cannabis hashtags are completely hidden or banned, they should be used with caution. Our social media team recommends avoiding hashtags with the phrase ‘cannabis’ completely unless they are niched down.

Cannabis Hashtags to Avoid

Here is a list of hidden and banned cannabis hashtags to avoid:

A

#alabamamarijuana

#alaskamarijuana

#arizonamarijuana

C

#californiamarijuana

#cannabis420

#cannabisclub

#cannabisconnoisseur

#cannabisculture

#cannabiscup

#cannabiscures

#cannabisdaily

#cannabisheals

#cannabisinfused

#cannabisinstagram

#cannabisismedicine

#cannabislifestyle

#coloradomarijuana

#concentrates

#connecticutmarijuana

D

#dcmarijuana

#delawaremarijuana

#dispensary

G

#georgiamarijuana

H

#hawaiimarijuana

I

#idahomarijuana

#illinoismarijuana

#indianamarijuana

#iowamarijuana

K

#kansasmarijuana

#kentuckymarijuana

L

#louisianamarijuana

#lovemarijuana

#loveweed

M

#marijuana

#marylandmarijuana

#massachusettsmarijuana

#medicalmarijuanadispensaries

#medicinalherbs

#michiganmarijuana

#mississippimarijuana

#mmjhealth 

#mmjhealthfacts

#montanamarijuana

N

#nebraskamarijuana

#nevadamarijuana

#newhampshiremarijuana

#newjerseymarijuana

#newmexicomarijuana

#newyorkmarijuana

#northcarolinamarijuana

#northdakotamarijuana

O

#ohiomarijuana

P

#pennsylvaniamarijuana

#prerolled

#prerolls

S

#southcarolinamarijuana

#southdakotamarijuana

T

#tennesseemarijuana

#texasmarijuana

V

#vermontmarijuana

W

#washingtonmarijuana

#weed

#weededibles

#westvirginiamarijuana

#wisconsinmarijuana

#wyomingmarijuana

6 Takeaways From U.S. Cannabis Council’s ‘UNSAFE Banking’ Briefing

The cannabis industry’s lack of banking access has created public safety concerns and social equity challenges in the rapidly growing marketplace.

That was the main takeaway from an Oct. 28 virtual briefing titled “UNSAFE Banking & Cannabis,” which was hosted by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC).

During the hour-long webinar, which was moderated by USCC CEO Steven Hawkins, several cannabis entrepreneurs and a security expert shared firsthand accounts of how a lack of banking services has impacted them.

Alphonso “Tucky” Blunt, CEO of Blunts + Moore in Oakland, Calif., shared details of robberies at his dispensaries and the public safety risks of the cash-only cannabis industry.

Precious Osagie-Erese, co-founder and chief operating officer of cannabis delivery and logistics company Roll Up Life, based in New Jersey, described her limited options to raise capital and the pressure to accept predatory deals in the industry.

Seun Adedeji, CEO of Elev8 Cannabis in Oregon and Massachusetts, shared his experience with seeking capital as a $50,000 start-up business in the space.

Leo Bridgewater, founder of Bridge H20 in New Jersey and director of veterans outreach for Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), discussed his efforts to secure a license in New Jersey.

And James Bauer, manager of retail compliance and corporate security for Livwell’s 21 dispensaries across Colorado, provided details of the company’s numerous burglaries and how Livwell has invested millions of dollars into security measures since it launched in 2009.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would provide a safe harbor for financial institutions that serve state-legal cannabis businesses, passed the U.S. House for the fifth time last month, this time as part of a defense spending package. The legislation has yet to make progress in the Senate, but the “UNSAFE Banking & Cannabis” panelists agreed that the bill would remove barriers to entry that have kept smaller and minority-owned businesses from growth, as well as eliminate some of the public safety concerns associated with an all-cash industry.

Here, Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary round up the key takeaways from each panelist.

1. The lack of banking access harms smaller and minority-owned businesses.

Precious Osagie-Erese, Co-Founder & CEO, Roll Up Life

According to Osagie-Erese’s insights, the inability to access loans is detrimental to many social equity operators. Smaller and minority-owned companies in the industry often feel pressured to accept predatory lending deals because the lack of traditional banking services leaves them few to no other options, she said.

Osagie-Erese also shared that the cannabis industry is “capital-contingent and intensive” and that she had to work “10 times harder” than she would in other industries to get her company up and running.

“We’ve been building this company for the last four to five years,” said Osagie-Erese, who co-founded Roll Up Life with CEO Tiyahnn Bryant. “And to say that there would be challenges is an understatement. … There’s so many things that goes into building a cannabis business from the ground up, especially when you’re on a grassroots level with not that much access to capital. You have to maneuver in a way where it’s not traditional. I almost feel like I’m working backwards. I have to work 10 times harder that I would initially in order to do basic services such as accounting, such as cashflow, such as loans, such as raising capital.”

In the midst of raising capital for the past six months, Roll Up Life, and other social equity entrepreneurs, are often pigeonholed into accepting “predatory deals” because they don’t have access to loans, Osagie-Erese said. 

Although she is able to access banking in New Jersey, Osagie-Erese said that her bank is two hours away, does not provide debit services to Roll Up Life and maintains high wire fees for the company.

What’s more, the limited number of banks in the state that do work with cannabis businesses will not have the bandwidth to serve the entire industry as it expands into an adult-use market, Osagie-Erese said.

The bottom line: entrepreneurs, especially minorities, are often turned away from starting a business in the cannabis space because of the banking challenges, Osagie-Erese said.

2. Cannabis businesses were declared ‘essential’ during coronavirus-related shutdowns but were not offered the same financial aid as other essential businesses.

Leo Bridgewater, Founder, Bridge H20; Director of Veterans Outreach, M4MM

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states declared cannabis companies “essential businesses” that could remain open during coronavirus-related shutdowns. Despite their essential designation, however, cannabis operators were excluded from the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster assistance due to federal prohibition.

Bridgewater said being denied SBA loans is just another way that cannabis businesses continue to get passed by when it comes to financial services, even when they are considered essential in their communities.

“During the COVID shutdown, cannabis businesses, us entrepreneurs were forced to watch our colleagues in other industries be awarded SBA recovery loans,” he said. “Those were things that were not afforded to us during the shutdown. … These are all things that we have to actually continue to see happen and get passed by while this industry is moving forward. 

“And if safe banking, if the larger MSOs is what you’re worried about, then let us give you the real boots-on-the-ground, real-time intel and tell you the ripple effect is mighty for those of us who are already in this business.” 

While introducing a broader reform proposal, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), in July, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said he’d lay himself down and block a standalone effort to pass a safe banking bill in the Senate because it would allow corporations to make a lot more money. 

But many small and minority-owned business operators have said safe banking and restorative justice go hand-in-hand in the cannabis industry. 

3. All-cash businesses are a public safety risk.

James Bauer, Director of Retail Compliance and Corporate Security, Livwell

Cannabis businesses are targeted by criminals because they know much of the industry deals primarily in cash, according to Bauer’s insights.

“The fact that most cannabis companies are forced to operate in an all-cash business continues to be a public safety risk,” he said. “Cannabis companies are specifically targeted by criminals because they know about the restrictions to banking placed on our industry that we have. The bottom line is criminals know that we are cash-heavy.”

In a 90-day period last year, Livwell had 15 burglaries at its Colorado retail locations, Bauer said, with criminals driving stolen vehicles into the buildings, cutting holes through rooftops and walls, staging lookouts and getaway vehicles, and attacking the stores with pry bars and sledgehammers purchased from local hardware stores. The company’s losses totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bauer noted, with stolen product likely taken out of state and sold on the illicit market.

“That was in 90 days last year,” he said. 

In the most recent attempted burglary, which took place around 2 a.m. on Oct. 11, five individuals tried to shut off power to one of Livwell’s dispensaries to disable the cameras and alarms. They proceeded to damage windows and multiple doors to gain entry to the store but were ultimately unsuccessful, largely due to what Bauer described as an investment of millions of dollars into security.

Livwell has over 40 security guards who work around the clock and sit in the dispensaries’ parking lots overnight to be a physical deterrent to potential burglars. The company has also invested in surveillance equipment, Bauer said, and has trained its employees to handle burglaries.

Livwell has also seen what Bauer called a “drastic increase” in construction costs as it installs barriers to prevent future vehicle attacks and secures its doors and windows against break-ins.

Smaller and minority-owned businesses that may not have the same resources as a larger company like Livwell often struggle to put measures in place to guarantee a safe workplace for their employees, Bauer added, further advancing the idea that banking challenges only exacerbate barriers to entry for those entrepreneurs.

4. Logistical issues abound.

Alphonso “Tucky” Blunt, CEO, Blunts + Moore

Blunt, who said he has been selling cannabis since 1996 and is the first ex-felon to operate a dispensary in Oakland, agreed with Bauer about the public safety risks and pointed out the logistical concerns that also arise when running an all-cash business.

“I’ve been selling weed since 1996,” he said. “I’ve always approached it as a business, and to be on this side with a business was always a goal of mine. Did I know that coming into this, on this legal side, selling cannabis would be less safe than I was selling on the street? Nah, I didn’t know that. I was more protected on the street than I am now with having this cash-only business.”

Not only does Blunt have to worry about incoming cash, but then he has to find different avenues to utilize that cash for business expenses, he said.

Blunt said if he has to pay a $15,000 bill, for example, he has to get 15 separate $1,000 money orders from potentially three or four different post offices due to bank policies. He essentially spends all day collecting money to pay one bill, he said, which is simply not how other businesses operate.

“If I could just go into a freakin’ bank and apply for a business loan like a regular business, because I am a business—I have a tax certificate at my store—if I could really just approach a bank and say, ‘Hey, I need some money. Give me a rate, and I’ll pay you back,’ I would be so much better off,” he said. 

“We are a business,” he said. “Treat us as such. … It’s impossible for us to win without having the right banking.”

5. Lack of financial support is often the biggest barrier to entry for cannabis entrepreneurs.

Seun Adedeji, CEO, Elev8

When Adedeji launched Elev8, which now operates in both Oregon and Massachusetts, he became what he called the “COE,” or chief of everything, at his company. He was the CEO, budtender, attorney, real estate agent—anything the start-up needed, he was there to provide, since he didn’t have the funds to hire a proper team, he said.

An immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria, Adedeji noted that when he launched Elev8, he slept in his shop for a year, got product on consignment and took on credit card debt to get the business off the ground.

“My journey into the cannabis industry has been a humbling one,” he said. “We started with really nothing. I was very young. I saw the cannabis industry as an emerging market, and I saw a huge opportunity, but I had really a lack of capital. I didn’t have the capital or the know-how or the relationships.” 

Many minority-owned businesses get taken advantage of because they can’t afford the right resources, he said, and when put in a position to take on big loans with steep interest rates, they could lose their livelihoods “if they sneeze [or] if they walk in the wrong direction,” Adedeji said.

Now that he has a daughter, Adedeji said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to provide for his family. As a tax-paying business owner, he wants to be recognized as one when it comes to traditional banking, he said.

“We are part of the United States,” he said. “We are invested in our community. We are providing jobs for people. … [Yet] people’s safety, people’s livelihoods are in danger just because we don’t have access to proper banking.” 

“We want to just be seen as a regular business,” he said.

6. The SAFE Banking Act is a step forward for the industry.

Steven Hawkins, CEO, U.S. Cannabis Council

Hawkins agreed that smaller and social equity operators are largely the most impacted by the lack of banking services in the cannabis industry, and he noted that within the SAFE Banking Act are mechanisms for change.

“The lack of banking is crippling the cannabis industry from a standpoint of security for the workplace and for workers,” he said. “Also, as we’ve heard very eloquently, the fact that equity operators, people of color with businesses, struggling with businesses, really are hurt by the lack of financial services.”

To move forward, Hawkins said, the industry must continue to have conversations around banking reform and put pressure on lawmakers to advance the SAFE Banking Act.

Until then, he said that while larger companies are more likely to get banking services (if they’re willing to pay more for it), it’s the smaller, minority-owned companies that will continue to suffer.

Uber Enters the Cannabis Market

Uber Enters the Cannabis Market

Uber has taken its first step into the cannabis market, several months after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshah told CNBC that the company would “absolutely” consider cannabis delivery in the U.S., depending on regulation.

The ride-hailing company has partnered with Canada-based cannabis retailer Tokyo Smoke to offer online cannabis ordering in Ontario, Canada, through the Uber Eats app.

Beginning early next week, Uber Eats will list Tokyo Smoke’s products under a section labeled “cannabis” within the app. Consumers will then be able to place an order for pick up at the nearest Tokyo Smoke store in Ontario, a spokesperson told CNN Business. At this time, consumers cannot purchase such products for delivery.

It is currently unclear whether the company has plans to expand online cannabis ordering across Canada or within the U.S.

“We will continue to watch regulations and opportunities closely market by market,” the Uber spokesperson told CNN Business. “And as local and federal laws evolve, we will explore opportunities with merchants who operate in other regions.”

Behind the Making of a Cannabis Dispensary Brand

Behind the Making of a Cannabis Dispensary Brand

Chief Operating Officer Charlena Berry shares a behind-the-scenes look at the development of The Cake House brand and why it’s resonating with customers. Plus: 7 tips for creating a successful cannabis brand.

It’s not very often that you are tasked with defining the vision and trajectory for a new company, especially when your business has the potential to influence hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals by selling a product that is notoriously discriminated against, in an industry that seems nearly impossible to enter. 

But when Daniel “Danny” Wise set out to build a chain of cannabis dispensaries in California, he had to do exactly that.  

Danny had to visualize what it meant to break down decades of barriers. He had to imagine what the look, feel, and ultimately the brand would encompass for his chain of retail stores. When he started this journey, he began with a single emotion he wanted to evoke: happiness. 

He wanted to create a customer experience that welcomed people of all ages, genders and ethnicities into the dispensary. It was also important that his concept be unique and compel new customers to feel comfortable enough to shop at his stores. It had to be different than the old “trap” shops in the state that sold cannabis in the gray area of Proposition 64. Then, after months of brainstorming dozens of concepts, one evening, it came to him: cake. He thought to himself, who doesn’t love cake? Everyone loves cake! 

Much of this was inspired by his love of hip-hop artists who often reference cake in their songs, but it was so much more than that. Some of the most popular cultivars in cannabis are Wedding Cake, Lemon Cake, Birthday Cake, Pound Cake, Jungle Cake, Cherry Cake—the list could go on. Cake makes people happy. When people have cake, it is a celebration of something special to friends and family. From a lyrical perspective, cake is used often in music as a reference to earning money, paying bills, or to something being easy. The term can easily appeal to a broad set of demographics where the concept evokes the core emotions of joy and happiness. 

Thinking of brands like Uber or Google, they started as a company but changed the market in a way where the company name became a verb. Ubering translates to taking an Uber, and the majority of people know what “Google it” means. When Danny took the concept of Cake to his team, that is exactly what happened. The team instantly embraced the brand and turned the company name into a verb where cake puns rule the day. Thus, “Cake” was born, and the company started to make Cake happen with the ultimate Cake-over! 

When Danny approached his legal team with the concept of Cake, they said that “Cake” alone could not be protected as intellectual property and sent him to expand on the idea. After some peer feedback and further review, the concept of The Cake House came to life. The best part of The Cake House was that the initials are TCH. This is a clever nod to the traditional THC acronym because with a quick read, someone could quickly invert the C and the H only to see THC. 

Beyond the name and logo, developing the Cake brand included designing the facility’s interior to match the company identity. The Cake Teal was inspired by the teal used by Chevy in the ’50s and ’60s, evoking joy and nostalgia. Within each store, there are fun catchphrases as part of the signage package like “Icing on the Cake” and “Have Your Cake and Smoke it Too.” 

The Cake team also wanted to pay homage to the colorful and artistic nature of traditional cannabis culture. To achieve this, each store has a mural designed by local artists Travis “Sharky” Crosby and Hasler. Cake’s Vista, Calif., store features the Cake Spaceman as a nod to Wise’s determination that he “Won’t stop until there is a Cake on Mars!”  

The Wildomar, Calif., store features a mural of the Monopoly Man with a Cake Machine where money is going in and cake is coming out. This references the sheer difficulty of navigating the complex real estate game to identify green-zoned properties and the expensive process of opening a cannabis retail store. The colors and shapes reflect messages from the Reefer Madness era.  

In Cake’s Malibu, Calif., location, Danny surprised me with a tribute to my late brother, Shaun Berry. I lost him early in 2021 after his lifelong addiction to opiates. He had been clean for 90 days when he was given a fake valium laced with fentanyl. Shaun’s addiction started in the early 2000s when his stepfather developed cancer and was overprescribed opiates. Recent series like Hulu’s Dopesick show how this story resonates loudly with many families. 

Seeing my pure devastation over this loss, this tribute serves as a humbling reminder of the stark reality—that if cannabis had been offered as a viable, non-addictive mechanism for pain management, Shaun’s life, and that of so many others, would have likely been very different. 

Finally, with Danny being a Veteran of the U.S. Navy, he is a passionate advocate to support his brothers and sisters who have served in the military. Cake offers all active and retired members of the U.S. Military an everyday discount of 20% off and by donating cannabis products to Veterans under California’s SB34 Act. The Cake team actively recruits military Veterans and promotes diversity within the team. Each team member is trained with the proprietary C.A.A.K.E. guest model, where they are taught how to form a meaningful relationship with each customer and are encouraged to end each transaction with a memorable reason to return to the store or to leave a positive review.

Every detail of the Cake experience has been thought through to serve the company’s mission, which is to bring joy to customers while breaking down the barriers associated with cannabis usage.

It is easy to build relationships with employees, customers, and the community when everyone is aligned to serving the same goals. At Cake, we want to create a happy, welcoming customer experience for people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. We believe it is important that we make cannabis accessible to anyone who would benefit from it, including Veterans and those seeking alternatives for pain management. Finally, we want to pay homage and celebrate traditional cannabis culture.

Moving at a record-breaking pace in California, Cake opened its first store in early August in Vista, followed by its second store in Malibu and third store in Wildomar in early September. So far, the customer feedback has been exceptional. The branding, combined with great products and pricing, is resonating with customers. Between Google, Weedmaps and Yelp, customers have already left hundreds of reviews where budtenders are regularly recognized by name. 

Cake customers are enthusiastically endorsing the company for not only the delight that the shop brings, but because there is an authentic social purpose behind it. Month over month, all three locations have doubled the number of customers visiting each store. We regularly receive emails from our customers expressing joy at not only having access to great products at competitive pricing, but also eager to support Cake’s brand and mission. With more than 20 projects in Cake’s pipeline, this is just the beginning, and we look forward to continuing to put the icing on the cake! 

7 Tips for Creating a Successful Cannabis Brand 

  1. Start with a single emotion you want your brand/image to convey to customers. 
  2. Consider a brand name that elicits that emotion and also reflects elements of the cannabis industry and culture.
  3. Make sure the brand name you choose will be able to be trademarked. 
  4. Consider your motivations—what inspires you and your team about cannabis—and any personally inspired stories you can share through your branding and visuals, including causes you would like to support with your brand, store and practices. 
  5. Create a store design and color palette that reflects the emotion of the brand. 
  6. Utilize hiring practices that are not only inclusive, but that identify those who will support and convey the brand’s mission. 
  7. Implement and create a guest experience model to ensure that employees create the environment you want customers to experience. 

Charlena Berry is the COO of The Cake House, a California-based cannabis company and CEO of Cannabis Business Growth, a consulting firm that specializes in winning cannabis licenses.

Cannabis packaging companies seek sustainable solutions to woo customers

Image of Calyx packaging

Marijuana and hemp packaging companies are searching for environmentally friendly and sustainable options to attract consumers who are more conscientious about buying products that are packaged using green materials.

While the return on investment might not immediately show up in the bottom line for cannabis companies – using nonrecyclable plastic is still considerably cheaper for most products – many in the industry believe the overall investment is worth it.

“We can’t keep honoring this plant that comes from Mother Nature and keep filling landfills with it,” said Ian Hackett, chief marketing officer and head of compliance for Fumé, a vertically integrated cannabis company based in Rutherford, California.

Walk out of a store after buying cannabis and the amount of packaging for even something as simple as flower is often excessive.

It’s not uncommon for only a few grams of flower to be packaged in a mylar bag or a hard-plastic pop-top container, then placed in another child-resistant, nonrecyclable bag.

Some of that excess is the result of restrictions from state regulators and, thus, unavoidable.

But companies are exploring ways to reduce, reuse and recycle cannabis packaging to lessen the industry’s impact on the environment and generate less waste.

Costly but worth it

When Hackett started looking at packaging options for the company’s products, he saw “tons of throw-away plastic bags and boxes” and not much by way of compostable or sustainable materials.

As an example, Fumé packages pre-rolls in a glass tube with a cork, then places those in a child-resistant paper box that requires a credit card to open.

It costs the company hundreds of thousands of dollars more to sell its products this way, Hackett said.

“It costs us more upfront, but I do think it’s going to be better for the environment,” he added.

Hackett also hopes customers will reuse the glass tubes and jars.

“The idea was to design it so people could and would want to hold onto it,” he said.

The cannabis industry should get hip to the idea of environmentally friendly packaging because consumers are increasingly looking for it, according to Hackett.

“I know more consumers want it, but there’s an upfront capital cost that companies have to want to make,” he said.

Recyclable options

For John Hartsell, CEO of Dizpot – a Phoenix-based branding, packaging and logistics company serving marijuana and hemp clients – an easy way to start is figuring out what is and isn’t recyclable.

While not common, mylar bags, pop-top containers and pre-roll tubes can be made from recyclable materials, Hartsell said.

He also cited programs offered by some retailers that reward customers through a points system that leads to discounts for returning recyclable packaging as a way to reduce waste.

One area to target is sustainable, biodegradable material for pouch packaging, which is popular in the industry, according to Tom Vickers, founder of Packwolves, an on-demand cannabis packaging platform headquartered in San Juan Capistrano, California.

His company offers a pouch made from biodegradable material, including recyclable craft paper and polyethylene that would cost a cannabis company about 15%-20% more than common packaging options.

At N2 Packaging Systems, based in Twin Falls, Idaho, CEO Thom Brodeur said sustainability has been an anchor of the company’s business strategy.

“100% recyclability is just table stakes for us,” he said.

The company manufactures its cans from reclaimed steel, for example. Same for the pull tabs on the cans.

Brodeur said the packaging is on the higher end from a cost standpoint.

He estimates the recyclable options cost 10%-19% more than the baseline cheaper packaging, depending on the volume of the order.

At Calyx Containers, an Allston, Massachusetts-based marijuana and hemp packaging business, the bulk of the material the company uses is recyclable – either polypropylene or glass.

The clear glass in one packaging line uses 56% recycled content. That reduces the amount of raw materials needed to produce the glass, which also cuts emissions from manufacturing, according to Colette Bazirgan, Calyx’s sustainability manager.

Calyx also focuses on the durability of the packaging, so that consumers can reuse the products after the cannabis is consumed.

“Our products can be used in many ways,” Bazirgan said. “We absolutely stress the important of reusing them.”

Domestic sourcing

Another way for U.S. companies to reduce their carbon footprints by way of packaging is to source from North America, Vickers said.

When buying from overseas companies, “the amount of energy used for transportation is huge, from the freight costs and the environmental impact of these giant container ships,” he said.

Vickers is looking at sourcing material from Mexico, which would save considerably on shipping costs.

Bazirgan said “sustainability is a focus across the company in many different ways,” including how the products are transported.

Calyx sources packaging from the United States, which saves on time and shipping costs. It also reduces the amount of emissions required to transport the materials.

Bazirgan pointed out that it’s generally cheaper to have products manufactured overseas, but there are other considerations, including potential supply-chain hiccups and the possibility of errors as well as higher quality and environmental standards in the U.S.

Hemp as a solution

With an entire industry dedicated to creating products to replace plastic, hemp-based packaging seems like a logical choice.

But it’s a ways out, Hartsell said.

He estimates it will take the hemp industry 10 years or more before it can truly compete with plastic materials on a cost basis.

Vickers agreed, saying that packaging made from hemp or other alternative products might not look as nice and cost more, which might put consumers off.

“Lots of people are still trying to get the cheapest thing available,” he said.

Calyx has explored hemp-based plastics, but so far, the materials haven’t met the company’s needs.

That doesn’t mean Calyx isn’t still looking at hemp-based plastics as an option, Bazirgan said.

“I would love to see hemp become more part of the generation of new bio-based materials,” she added. “So we’re keeping an eye on that space.”

New Jersey Adult-Use Cannabis Applications Set to Begin in December

Adult-use cannabis sales are one step closer to becoming a reality in New Jersey.

After the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) missed its deadline to start accepting business license applications in September, the commission has finally announced applications for growers, producers and testing laboratories will open Dec. 15. Adult-use license applications for retailers will open March 15, 2022, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, NJ.com reported.

According to JD SupraCRC will prioritize reviewing, scoring and approving applications in the following order:

  • Social Equity Businesses Applicants
  • Diversely Owned Businesses Applicants
  • Impact Zone Businesses Applicants
  • License Applicants receiving bonus points for collective bargaining agreements, project labor agreements or residency
  • All other applicants

Additionally, “priority will be given to conditional license applications over annual license applications, and microbusiness applications will be prioritized over standard cannabis business applications in every category,” the article states.

As Cannabis Business Times previously reported, the CRC is not permitted to approve more than 37 cultivation licenses between February 2021 and February 2023—excluding microbusinesses and expanded alternative treatment centers. However, during that time, the CRC may accept and review additional licenses as long as the issued license number does not exceed 37.

Looking Ahead

The state’s adult-use cannabis law requires legal sales to begin by mid-February or six months after the CRC adopted its initial rules in August, but, according to NJ.com, it’s unlikely sales will start by then without new businesses. 

Medical cannabis businesses and growers in the state will first be permitted to legally sell adult-use cannabis once they can prove they have enough product to meet patient demand and can pay the fees to expand to the adult-use market, according to the news outlet. 

CRC issued an additional 14 medical cannabis business licenses Oct. 15—10 cultivation and four vertically integrated—to minority- or women-owned companies, CBT reportedHowever, the newly licensed businesses must operate as medical-only for one year before being eligible to serve in the adult-use market, according to NJ.com.

Jeff Brown, CRC executive director, said the commission is “trying to move as quickly as [it] possibly can,” as several new medical dispensaries are still awaiting licenses, NJ.com reported.

The commission is set to host a pre-application webinar Nov. 30 for individuals interested in applying for a license.

Cannabis stocks take off on legalization hopes. One investor sees potential for more upside

The stars may be aligning for cannabis stocks as they tear higher on hopes around a reported Republican-led legalization effort, Tim Seymour said.

The Amplify Seymour Cannabis ETF (CNBS) portfolio manager and CNBC contributor told CNBC’s “ETF Edge” on Wednesday that a possible bill drafted by South Carolina House Rep. Nancy Mace to deschedule and regulate the federally illegal substance “could be a game changer for the cannabis industry.”

The removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act would make it legal in the U.S.

“Despite all of the strong growth and bottom-up dynamics, [cannabis] really still is very much a macro story for investors,” Seymour said.

“[It’s] huge news for a market that was not expecting descheduling or a federal outcome potentially before midterm elections and something that clearly is in the price of cannabis stocks,” he said.

Both U.S. and Canadian cannabis stocks have skyrocketed since Marijuana Moment first reported on the bill’s existence, with many names including Seymour’s CNBS ETF erasing most of their recent downdrafts.

“You’ve effectively put in a reset, a sanity check, because as bullish as the backdrop is for investing in cannabis, it’s been a very difficult run for the last nine months,” Seymour said. “This announcement immediately took a spring-loaded industry significantly higher and maybe reset a lot of those charts.”

Big industry players including [Trulieve] and [TerrAscend] could also impress with their upcoming earnings reports, said Seymour, also founder and chief investment officer at Seymour Asset Management.

“Sequential third-quarter growth for a lot of the cannabis companies will not be what it was year over year, but 20%-40% growth at a time when the industry is frankly just becoming a lot more sophisticated,” he said.

“These are companies that are finally getting … that much more refined,” he said, highlighting the “operational excellence coming at a time when the valuations still put cannabis as a growth sector very much near the bottom of sectors that are showing enormous growth.”

Between earnings season, legalization hopes, possible merger and acquisition activity heating up, and valuations reset, cannabis stocks could continue their ascent, he said.

CNBS climbed more than 3% on Thursday. It is up nearly 7.5% year to date.

State cannabis agency tracks local opt-outs before kicking off licensing process

The Office of Cannabis Management launched a portal to track laws that will keep dispensaries and lounges out of some localities

ALBANY — In an effort to gather crucial local data necessary to plan the state’s licensing of adult-use cannabis businesses, New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) is compelling municipalities to submit their decisions to opt out of allowing cannabis retailers as soon as possible through an online portal launched Wednesday, Nov. 10.

The opt-out process has been a hot topic at town board meetings across the state, with a Goshen tirade even going viral on TikTok, after the state legalization bill passed last spring gave municipalities until Dec. 31, 2021, to push through local laws limiting the distribution of licenses for businesses like dispensaries and cannabis lounges in their jurisdictions.

In some municipalities, including the Hudson Valley’s Tuxedo and Cold Spring, voters were asked to weigh in directly on the potential for cannabis businesses in their area during last week’s general election.

“These decisions will be critical for those seeking a license to understand where opportunities are available and for the Board to understand the initial geographic picture of participation,” said Chris Alexander, the OCM’s executive director. 

The OCM and its oversight board, the Cannabis Control Board, have not yet provided any details to prospective adult-use licensees on the nature of the application process or the number of licenses the state will grant. But knowing which municipalities will disallow such businesses will be crucial for the board to determine how to distribute the initial round of licenses under their purview.

“I encourage localities requesting to opt-out of hosting dispensary and on-site consumption licensees to file their requests promptly,” said Tremaine Wright, who chairs the board that will ultimately approve the state’s first adult-use cannabis businesses. 

Municipalities are not allowed to prohibit other conduct made legal on the state level last spring, such as smoking weed in public. While they are required to pass any local opt-out laws by Dec. 31, governments can choose to opt back in at any time or to allow some types of businesses but not others.

Some local leaders in the Capital Region and the Hudson Valley have chosen to permit cannabis dispensaries but have banned on-site consumption businesses, or “lounges,” which are akin to bars for pot use. 

The recent Hudson Valley referendums produced a similar result: residents in both Tuxedo and Cold Spring appear to have opted out of on-site consumption businesses, though voters from the latter opposed a separate proposal to ban dispensaries, offering a boost to those hoping to purchase pot and smoke at home. In Cold Spring, still-uncounted absentee ballots may impact this result.

Municipal governments that chose to opt out of having cannabis retailers in their jurisdictions were already required by law to directly request that the Cannabis Control Board refrain from allowing such businesses to obtain state licenses. 

New Odor Control Technology for Cannabis Cultivation

To keep neighbors and regulators happy, operators must find better solutions to cannabis cultivation’s odor problem. Can new odor control technologies solve this growing issue?

Odor control for today’s commercial cannabis cultivator is just as critical as it was for the traditional black market grower. In the good old days of underground grow ops, a stinky operation was likely to get shut down. And today, the story isn’t much different, only at an industrial scale.

ODOR ABATEMENT TECHNOLOGY RAPIDLY ADVANCING FOR CANNABIS CULTIVATORS

As cannabis and hemp legislation opens up massive market potential, there is a growing urgency to find new odor control technologies that can work for facilities that can cover tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of square feet.

Technologies implemented in grow rooms across the country include carbon filtration, bipolar ionization, and sealed grow room design:

Carbon Filtration:

Most operations use some form of carbon filter. In essence, it’s a filtration system filled with activated carbon, which sequesters volatile compounds through absorption.

As one of the oldest forms of odor control, this technology has evolved in recent years to adapt to the sheer size and scope of commercial operations. For example, the high humidity of a large-scale greenhouse is a challenging factor for the traditional carbon scrubbers used in the industry.

According to Dr. William Vizuete, Chief Scientific Officer at Pacific Environmental Analytics in Cannabis Business Times, new filtration technology should start with a leaf enclosure test. This measurement determines which volatile organic compounds (e.g., terpenes) are expressed and at what growth stage—details that help an engineer assess the type of filter required and estimated loads.

Envinity is an air purification company working with the cannabis greenhouse industry in Carpinteria Valley, California. It has also extensively studied “the behavior of the odor particle of various odorous plants” to develop its carbon filter and purification technology specifically for cannabis.

According to a recent article highlighting the new odor ‘ceasefire’ in Carpinteria Valley, the newly installed scrubbers use pre-filters and ultraviolet light to extend the life of the carbon filter.

Developed through extensive and localized R&D, these carbon filters aim to resolve the ongoing complaints in the area about smelly cannabis cultivation.

Bipolar Ionization:

Bipolar ionization technology, from the likes of companies like Plasma Air, deploys positive and negatively charged ions into the localized environment. As a result, smaller airborne particulates clump together into larger masses, charged up by the ionization.

These larger particles’ odor-causing contaminants get caught within standard filters (like activated carbon designs) used within the HVAC system.

Plus, the system creates oxygen ions, which naturally oxidize (degrade) the common odorous aerosols produced through cannabis cultivation.

According to Plasma Air, bipolar ionization technology is effective for small particles with a 99 percent success rate compared to most other filtration and odor control solutions. It’s also said to be more cost-effective from OpEX and CapEX perspectives.

Sealed Grow Rooms (Controlled Environment Agriculture):

A final critical component to odor management in and around an indoor cannabis facility is the strict implementation of sealed spaces and a closed-loop HVAC system. Although not applicable for greenhouses, sealed grow rooms ensure no outside exhaust, with air filtered, purified, supplemented, and recirculated back into the space. Controlled indoor environments, widely used in cannabis cultivation, are beneficial for keeping pests, disease, and, importantly, odors at bay.

Andrew Cornwall, a partner in Rose Mary Jane, a multi-state retailer, and cultivator, based in Oklahoma, maintains the protocols around sealed rooms, offering more than just pest control and cleanliness. In his experience, sealed grow rooms ensure no odors leave the space, ensuring happy neighbors no matter where the operation is located.

Cornwall explained that Rose Mary Jane’s current operations in Oklahoma are smell-free, all thanks to a well-controlled indoor environment. He detailed, “We are not exhausting the smelly air, and the added benefit for us with that is we aren’t bringing in contaminated air. Actually sealing the smell in at the point of the source. So we don’t have to deal with charcoal filters, ductwork, and fans.”

Cornwall did importantly highlight that different markets require different odor abatement plans. For example, in Maine, where Rose Mary Jane is expanding operations, they may need to implement additional layers simply due to local regulations. However, he maintains, “Our facility won’t smell because we keep our grow rooms, and we keep our dry rooms sealed.”

FACILITY CONSIDERATIONS START FROM THE GROUND UP

When considering plans for odor control, cultivators and producers need to consider the entire operation, not just the grow rooms. Therefore, odor mitigation plans, typically a requirement within any legal market, need to cover all aspects of the facility, including cultivation rooms, trim rooms, drying rooms, packaging spaces, storage areas, and general HVAC for the common areas.

A mitigation plan (also called an odor abatement plan) details what technologies are applied and where. They drill down into the nitty-gritty aspects, including expected rate of exchange (CFM), filter replacement schedule, and general maintenance requirements.

The cannabis sector has long ago outgrown the typical odor control technologies suitable for an illegal basement grow op. Even the conventional carbon filters are no longer suitable for commercial and industrial-sized operations.

New technologies, including highly customized activated carbon filters, bipolar ionization, and hermetically sealed grow rooms with closed-loop HVAC systems, are required.

Harvesting Cannabis – Is Wet or Dry Trimming Better?

Trimming cannabis is a critical step in the process regardless of which method you choose. Learn about dry vs. wet trimming here!

Dry trimming has become almost unilaterally preferred by cultivators due to the perceived superiority of the results and ease of handling the flower, but drying takes time. On the other end of the spectrum, trimming wet flowers can be done right after harvest, but it often gunks up trimming shears within seconds. If all worked out as planned, maybe most farms would only engage in dry trimming. Yet, time crunches happen. Thus, many farms have to expend considerable capital investments for labor costs to have people process wet material.

To be clear, dry trimming is performed after the cannabis has been harvested and allowed to dry for weeks in a controlled environment; wet trimming is any trimming done before this stage. In either method, the process of trimming is a critical step during the cannabis harvest.

Luckily, there’s hope through automated trimming equipment. Cannabis Tech reached out to an industry expert to get the skinny on which methods are the best.

DOES WET OR DRY TRIMMING PROVIDE BETTER RESULTS?

In an interview with Cannabis Tech, Co-Founder of Triminator, Dana Mosman chimed in on trim methods saying, “a dry trim, generally, I think produces a better nose to the product. Better smell, better color. So there’s something about the drying process that allows it to lock in those properties, and there’s no oxidation basically, so when it goes to the wet trim, and it’s sheared off in that product in that it’s trimmed as that part of the process you end up with a bit of enzymatic browning – you lose a little bit of that smell and color.”

“So, for like the flower perspective and the smell color, all the shelf qualities, I think it’s been pretty well established that dry trimming produces those properties better than wet trimming. So for a boutique, top-shelf flower, I would certainly choose dry trimming. But, to get to dry trimming, you have to hang dry the plant, which takes up a lot of space, right? Processors touch the plant multiple times – when they take it down in the field, then hang it up, then cut it down. I wouldn’t recommend hand-bucking unless you’re going for top-shelf flowers,” Mosman explained about the labor-intense process.

Outside of boutique flower, Mosman detailed the differences from a producer’s perspective. “Dry trimming is simply less process efficient. That’s where wet trimming wins. You go into the field; you take it down, run it through the trimmer, and then hang it on the drying racks, and you’re done.”

INDUSTRIALIZATION MEANS THE FORWARD MARCH OF AUTOMATION

Delicate and in-depth handling of each bud is the best way to preserve the terpenes, cannabinoids, and other valuable compounds within the plant. For top-shelf cannabis, this is ideal, but for all other production levels, the labor cost may be too steep.

Here’s where automated cannabis trimming equipment is crucial to the cannabis industry. According to Mosman, dry trimming units can process 6 pounds of cannabis per day, or 5 to 8 pounds per hour, all for the cost of a few thousand dollars.

According to Mosman, “We always look at it as a tool, like any part of what we’re doing, because we have a really automated process now. From bucking to trimming, you can almost be touchless in terms of human interface with it. There are obviously still operators; these are just tools in the grower’s quiver.”

In terms of cost savings and labor reduction, Mosman stated, “We see it as a way to reduce their overhead and still have the same quality product. So it’s never going to 100 percent replace hand trimmers, but if you can cut your labor costs by 80 to 95 percent and still have the same type of output product that you had with a hundred percent hand input.” 

While craft enthusiasts might hate the sound of this, we’re clearing the second decade of cannabis markets in certain states, and cultivators must be more cost-conscious, especially independent growers, in order to maintain a highly competitive market. 

NOT EVERYTHING’S A NAIL WHEN YOU HOLD A HAMMER

While automated trimming is a significant advancement, it is not without its set of risks, especially when the trimming units are far and away from your operation. An additional risk was brought to light in Michigan headlines recently with the recall of several products due to contamination that occurred during trimming.

According to the local government officials, “Several batches of marijuana were run through the mechanical trimmer of Michigan Medical Marijuana LLC, doing business as Glo, before retesting for microbial failures. The mechanical trimmer was contaminated with banned chemical residues Bifenthrin and Chlorfenapyr.”

As the story unfolds in Michigan it’s a glaring reminder, that as with all production equipment, stringent operating procedures and cleaning schedules must be maintained and enforced.

Additionally, for those meticulously focused on a boutique product, automated trimming still isn’t quite an ideal choice. Perhaps it will never become so, but as alcohol ranges from moonshine to Jack Daniels and international liquors over $100 a bottle, there will be room for every sort of cultivator in the future of cannabis. We might even see automated options that fit within top-shelf cultivators someday.