Regulators in Alabama last week abruptly suspended the process of awarding business licenses for the state’s new medical cannabis program, citing the “discovery of potential inconsistencies” in the application process.
During an emergency meeting on Friday, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission voted to “stay all proceedings related to the current offering of medical cannabis business licenses.”
The commission said that the stay was issued following the “discovery of potential inconsistencies in the tabulation of scoring data” used to evaluate applications for business licenses. During the commission, the commission said that it will “seek an independent review of all scoring data.”
“The Commission will work expeditiously to investigate and identify inconsistencies in the score data,” said Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission director, John McMillan. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are suspending all current procedural timelines until those matters are resolved.”
In a press release on Friday, the commission did not provide a timetable for the length of the stay, saying only that it will “remain in effect until lifted by the Commission.”
The stay will impact the following procedural requirements of the medical cannabis program, per the press release: “Applicants who were awarded a license on June 12, 2023, are not required to pay the license fee by June 26, 2023; Applicants who were denied award of license on June 12, 2023, are not required to submit a request for investigative hearing by June 26, 2023; Licenses that were awarded on June 12, 2023, will not issue on July 10, 2023.”
At the time of the announcement, the Medical Cannabis Commission said that the “University of South Alabama (USA) was engaged… to coordinate the application review process and recruit evaluators to assess the scored exhibit items for all 90 applicants.”
“[The University of South Alabama] utilized 66 evaluators, with experience relevant to the application content, to review one of eight scoring categories: (1) Financial Ability; (2) Business/Management Approach; (3) Operations Plans & Procedures; (4) Facility Suitability & Infrastructure; (5) Security Plan; (6) Personnel; (7) Quality Control & Testing; or (8) Marketing & Advertising. Each scored exhibit was independently reviewed by two evaluators to assess the applicant’s solvency, stability, suitability, capability, projected efficiency, and experience, both in relation to any baseline set by the Commission as well as in comparison with other applicants,” the commission explained.
“Those applicants who were awarded a license will have 14 days to submit the appropriate license fee to the Commission. At its meeting on July 10, 2023, the Commission is scheduled to issue licenses in each license category,” the commission continued. “Under the rules promulgated by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, physicians may begin the certification process to recommend medical cannabis after business licenses have been issued. For a patient to qualify for medical cannabis, the patient must have at least one of the qualifying conditions and be recommended for medical cannabis by a certified physician.”
Now, all of that has been paused until further notice, leaving the immediate future of the new law shrouded in uncertainty.
Alabama legalized medical cannabis in 2021, when Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill making the treatment available to certain individuals with qualifying conditions.
“This is certainly a sensitive and emotional issue and something that is continually being studied,” Ivey said after signing the bill into law. “On the state level, we have had a study group that has looked closely at this issue, and I am interested in the potential good medical cannabis can have for those with chronic illnesses or what it can do to improve the quality of life of those in their final days.”
Angela Pih knows how to market to consumers because she’s perceptive and sensitive to her audience’s unique needs. Coming from an advertising and fashion background, Pih understands that branding is all about understanding the consumer. She now works as the head of marketing for StateHouse Holdings, which may sound like the name of some sort of hedge fund but is actually one of California’s leading cannabis companies and home to such brands as Dime Bag, Kingpen, and Urbn Leaf. High Times sat down with Pih to talk about how she helped build some of The Golden State’s most recognizable brands.
So if you just want to talk about how you got into this field and how you got to where you are today.
My current trajectory came from two decades of being in the global advertising agency world, predominantly working on Fortune 500 global companies. Brands have always been a part of my career in terms of what inspires me. I’m not sure if you are familiar with a woman by the name of Christina Wong of Fruit + Flower. She is a cannabis culinary writer and influencer. She and I were having breakfast one day before she was in cannabis, and she goes “There’s a job at Papa & Barkley and they’re looking for a CMO. Why don’t you go get that job and hire me because I really want to get into the cannabis industry?” And I remember saying to her, “What is it about this company that you really love and that you think that I should look at?” And she goes “Well, it’s one of the really well-respected companies. It’s education-first. And it creates and develops really wonderful products that have helped people.” And so that was my hook. I reached out directly and really fell in love with the brand story of helping those who you love the most with incredible products. Six weeks later, I was hired and then four weeks after that I hired Christina.
Being in the industry with a Chinese background and being a woman, do you feel accepted? Or do you feel like the industry still has a lot more work to do when it comes to treating people who just aren’t white men as equals in industry?
I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve not experienced any level of discrimination from being a woman or being Asian. I do notice that BIPOC [are] not as well represented within the cannabis industry. A seat at a table to be a decision maker, to be a leader within the industry, should not [be] tied to what you look like and what the color of your skin and your origin [is]. It should be tied into what you contribute to that conversation.
One of the things we’re starting to feel here in Colorado is the boom busting with cannabis. Which can be scary, but I also know it’s inevitable as more places legalize and there’s not necessarily the same type of market for tourists. So what advice are you giving brands currently that you’re working with when it comes to this unprecedented time in cannabis?
You need to understand who your core customers are. Continue to make sure that you’re taking care of them. And really be able to look for affinities with underserved consumers who you may not have had conversations with or invited into certain events. Be able to speak to their needs so that you have a wider, addressable market. [Cannabis is] very much a boots-on-the-ground type of business. [It requires] conversations, education, understanding consumer behavior.
I know another big thing that you advocate for is sustainability. So how do you work that in when you’re working with a brand and making sure that they’re successful, but also sustainable?
Here at StateHouse, since we’re fully vertical on our farms, we’ve switched over a lot of our power usage, working directly with PG&E in terms of using less electricity in our cultivation practices. Looking at packaging, which often is wasteful, how can we reduce that? And we’re looking at ways of being able to make sure that we are conscious in terms of how we’re making all of our products.
Do you have anything that you want to specifically make sure we highlight or talk about?
We have recently opened our West Hollywood Urbn Leaf dispensary right on the Sunset Strip. So someone was asking me, “Why are you so excited about having a cannabis store on the Sunset Strip?” It’s [a] prime location. First generation cannabis retailers have been in industrial areas and zoned in places [that are] hidden somewhere [and] kind of difficult to find and look a bit shady even though it’s a legal, properly licensed facility. Being right on the Sunset Strip, we’ve really come a long way. [The store has an] open shelf shopping experience, so you can just pick up a little basket and drop your products in and actually shop as if you were in a grocery store. I love the experience of self-select where you get guidance with a budtender and have one-on-one conversations, but more importantly, you can actually pick up a product, look at the label and not feel that you’re being rushed.
From a young age, Allie Greenstone had known that she wanted to work with cannabis. When, during her college years in Michigan, medical marijuana ended up on the ballot, she printed over a hundred T-shirts that read “Yes to Prop 1” in a kitschy, leafy font. Fittingly, she started her career as a budtender in Denver, while also keeping up with the latest in cultivar and cannabinoid research.
Greenstone’s well-rounded knowledge of and appreciation for cannabis would eventually land her a place at Mary’s Medicinals, where she now works as a brand representative and national educator. The first job speaks for itself, but the second might require a bit of an explanation. In short, Greenstone is responsible for educating the brand’s budtenders and informing its consumers.
The role of educator isn’t exactly common among cannabis companies, many of which prioritize marketing over R&D. But for Mary’s—a Denver-based, female-led business founded in 2013—learning and growing have always been part of the curriculum. Even as the brand expands into uncharted territory, its mission to “distill the wisdom of plants” continues to govern day-to-day operations.
Mary’s Medicinals Presents: Pens and Patches
Bridging the gap between technology and horticulture, Mary’s Medicinals delivered one of the first patented cannabis products in the United States: the transdermal gel pen. The pen, which has been released in CBD, CBN, Indica and Sativa varieties, provides consistent and reliable effects the likes of which—according to consumers, at least—purely recreational cannabis simply cannot offer.
Greenstone and her colleagues would concur, as Mary’s was the first and—to this day—one of regrettably few cannabis brands that tests products at its own locations in addition to third-party research facilities. Armed with its own team of in-house scientists and lab-testing equipment, Mary’s is able to maintain the strictest of quality control guidelines.
That’s good news, especially considering many patrons use Mary’s products to treat or find relief from a variety of physical and mental ailments, ranging from inflammation to anxiety. According to Greenstone, customers have also found success in using Mary’s products with regards to brain fog, motivation, focus, and—on some occasions—specific medical conditions such as ADHD and endometriosis.
Topical Versus Transdermal
Just as, if not more, infamous than the transdermal pens are Mary’s transdermal patches. These patches, which come in similar varieties as the pen, work best when they are applied on veinous parts of the body, such as the top of the foot or the inside of the wrist. Once applied, the effects usually take between 15 and 30 minutes to kick in, and can last up to 12 hours.
One of Greenstone’s tasks as an educator is explaining how these innovative products work. “Nine out of 10 budtenders do not understand the difference between transdermal and topical,” she tells High Times. Whereas topical solutions only affect the surface area of the skin, Mary’s pens and patches go past the epidermis. As a result, their effects not only reach farther, but last longer too.
Another benefit of the patches and pens is that their usage is discreet. They do not require bongs or pipes to be consumed, and customers are able to experience their benefits without first having to fill their living room with smoke. In a way, these products helped cement Mary’s as a brand which is more interested in cannabis’ therapeutic properties than its recreational value.
The Benefits of Having a Regimen
Though the industry gets more saturated with each passing year, Mary’s has been able to separate itself from the competition by presenting itself as the go-to cannabis brand for everyday consumers. Sure, there are many businesses that sell to people who consume some form of cannabis every day. However, Mary’s is the only one that’s been specifically designed for the benefit of this target demographic.
Currently, everyday users are faced with two large problems: tolerance and money. The more often they use cannabis products, the more their tolerance goes up. And the more their tolerance goes up, the larger the quantity of cannabis products they will have to buy. This would be fine, if we lived in a world where cannabis was considered an essential medicine and those who need it received financial support.
Unfortunately, we don’t. While medicinal cannabis has been legalized in a number of states, in general, it is still seen—and treated—as a luxury product, one that tends to come with a hefty price tag. Mary’s aims to solve this issue. Not only are their pens, patches and other creations affordable, but the research-focused environment in which they are developed ensures that your tolerance levels stay constant.
Instead of encouraging customers to buy more products, Mary’s focuses on developing products that provide them with everything they need. “Bioavailability,” is the word that Greenstone keeps coming back to during this part of our discussion, and it refers to the percentage of and rate at which the active ingredients of Mary’s products are absorbed into the bloodstream.
The higher a product’s bioavailability, the more consumers will be able to get out of that product. And the more consumers will be able to get out of a product, the better suited that product will be for long-term use. This is Mary’s ultimate goal—to sell cannabis products that provide a safe, sustainable and predictable experience for people consuming marijuana on a regular basis.
Consequently, Mary’s products work best when they are part of a regimen, rather than on-the-spot treatments for unexpected issues or cravings. “You won’t experience the optimal benefit when you are 10 or 20 days into it,” Greenstone exclaims. “But once you hit that four, six or eight-week mark of regimen usage, you’ll start to notice.”
From Entourage to Ensemble
In a world where so many people use cannabis recreationally or when they are in need of a quick fix, this approach may seem confusing at first. However, the way in which Mary’s products are designed to be used is greatly informed by ongoing research into the mysterious chemical makeup and promising medicinal properties of cannabinoids.
Until recently, there was only one cannabinoid everybody cared about: THC. The letters were used as a major selling point when the first American dispensaries opened their doors, and the letters continue to be plastered over packaging to this day. Back when she was still a budtender, Greenstone recalls how customers would flock to the products with the highest THC percentages, regardless of their quality or potency.
As time went on, companies became more sophisticated and consumers better educated. Different cannabinoids like CBD and CBG arrived at the scene, and they now sell just as well if not slightly better than their older, rowdier brother. Still, a majority of brands seem to stick with just one cannabinoid, emphasizing their presence over the countless chemicals they interact with.
The Future of Mary’s Medicinals
Greenstone refers to this mindset as the “entourage effect.” Google’s dictionary defines an entourage as “a group of people attending or surrounding an important person,” and that’s exactly what these aforementioned cannabis products are. In most cases, THC or CBD is the star of the show, while the terpenes and flavonoids are forced to play second fiddle.
As research into the properties of and interplay between the eighty or so cannabinoids present in marijuana chugs along, Mary’s urges cannabis companies to move away from entourage and towards ensemble. In an ensemble, all active ingredients stand on equal footing, meaning the strength of the whole is derived from the sum of its parts.
Needless to say, the future for Mary’s Medicinals is looking bright. The company just released a sublingual oil called FORMULA, which combines as many as eleven different cannabinoids and terpenes. Greenstone, for her part, is suiting Mary’s products with QR codes that provide consumers with all the information they could ever need on their recent purchases and the ensemble effects they elicit.
Read this story originally published in High Times February 2022 Issue in our archive.
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