While the regulations around cannabis retail in Canada are still being ironed out, we do know one thing: the industry is booming. According to the Cannabis Economic Account, “In 2017, about 4.9 million Canadians aged 15 to 64 spent an estimated $5.7 billion on cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes. This was equivalent to around $1,200 per cannabis consumer.”
Clearly, there are a lot of opportunities in the cannabis space, and because of this, we can expect more and more businesses to enter the market. If you’re thinking of doing just that, one of the first things you should focus on is compliance.
In this article, we’ll outline the key steps you should take to ensure that your marijuana dispensary stays on the right side of the law and operates within all safety and community standards.
Stay updated every step of the way
Be proactive when keeping up with compliance news and updates. Official regulations may not be out yet, but don’t wait until they’re finalized before you take the necessary steps to comply.
“Use compliance to your advantage,” advises Dennis O’Malley, President of Caliva. “If you are on the front end of compliance versus waiting until the last moment, your customers will appreciate that you are a well-run business that is looking out for them and that you are ahead of the regulations.”
Lloyd Banks, CEO of Cannabis Practice Group, echoes this and says that “compliance is a 24/7/365 requirement for any successful licensed provider in the medical or recreational marijuana industry.”
“It starts with having a consistent team of legal, regulatory, tax, human resources, environmental and local government experts to continuously assess the evolutionary nature of regulations, inspections and safety guidelines. These requirements are in a continuous state of review, so being proactive in planning for trends and implementation of operating procedures prior to changes helps you stay compliant and ahead of future changes by your regulatory agencies.”
Employ and network with the right people
Trying to stay on top of all things compliance can be tough, particularly in the cannabis industry. As Banks said, regulations and guidelines are always in review and evolving. The key to keeping everything in check is to work with the right people.
“Hiring staff that have flexibility to adjust in real time and with advance planning to the evolutionary nature of industry and tax regulations is critical,” adds Banks. “Empowering the staff to be a part of the strategy for compliance helps in the identification of trends before they become regulations. You have to be comfortable with the fact that you wont be the smartest person in the room, but with a great team of external experts and internal knowledge, you can have the smartest team in your market or region.”
Working with external experts has other advantages. As RJ Falcioni Jr, J.D., President and Principal Director at OutCrowd and Outspoke points out, “the folks on the ground not only dictate the progression of the law but, they know the lawmakers and their staff, and, your activist can provide valuable access to new business opportunities and synergies within the community.”
Use the right solutions
Marijuana dispensaries have very unique requirements, so it’s best to work with vendors and solution providers who specialize in the cannabis industry. These vendors are always updated with industry and regulatory developments and they can tailor their solutions and see to it that you’re able to adhere to regulations.
Take reporting and record-keeping, as an example. In Canada, “the proposed Cannabis Act authorizes the Minister to establish and maintain a national Cannabis Tracking System. The purpose of this system would be to track cannabis throughout the supply chain to help prevent diversion of cannabis into, and out of, the legal market.”
Reporting to the Cannabis Tracking System is another step you need to take in order to stay compliant. Fortunately, there a number of point of sale systems specifically for cannabis dispensaries that can integrate with the system, taking some of the manual work out of reporting marijuana sales, deliveries, and losses.
(Note: Looking for providers that cater to retailers, in general, could be an option for you, but be aware that some vendors avoid working with cannabis dispensaries due to the “high risk” nature of the space.)
Audit and check your operations
Once you start operating your cannabis dispensary, it’s essential that you routinely conduct retail audits so that your business stays compliant with all the necessary regulations.
Creating marijuana retail checklists can help ensure that you don’t overlook important items. You should establish an organized audit process so you can walk through and audit your shop efficiently. You may also want to get help from your law firm or industry partners when setting up your procedures.
Photos go a long way, especially when you’re running a marijuana dispensary. There are some strict guidelines being proposed around signage, labeling, and physical security, so having visuals to communicate what to do and what not to do make it easier for you and your team to comply.
For example, when it comes to adhering to product displays or physical security requirements, you should consider including photos to show how your store should look, along with images of what not to do.
And to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly, use a flexible audit, checklist, and task management software. A good retail audit solution enables you to not only conduct audits efficiently, but it can also help you stay on top of tasks or action items that need to be taken care of.
Err on the side of caution
Finally, when it comes to compliance, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. As Falcioni puts it, it’s “better to make less and stay in business than to take risks that might pay double today only to lead to loss of licensing or worse tomorrow. At the end of the day, compliance is a matter of keeping the people safe and that should be a top priority of every cannabis retailer.”
And remember that regulations come with the territory.
“Regulations are normal, expected and required, so you can’t cut corners,” adds Banks. “You also need to accept that the regulatory environment for the cannabis industry will have a higher burden of reporting, compliance regime and enforcement than other regulated industries like alcoholic beverage sales because this is the new entrant in the retail space. Marijuana retailers are a mix of a pharmacy, doctor’s office and traditional retail establishment, just with its main pharmaceutical product that’s still a Federal Schedule 1 controlled substance. You will have more scrutiny on your business, but if you embrace the opportunity, you can use this to your advantage.”
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