As new markets emerge and existing markets prepare to expand licensing opportunities, the competition is fiercer than ever. The only way to earn these coveted licenses is to present an application beyond reproach. Winning applications don’t fall from the sky; they are tirelessly crafted and reviewed by a diverse team of industry experts.
Finding these professionals can be an arduous and expensive task. Getting your support team to work together in a timely and seamless manner is significantly more challenging. Managing a licensing application from start to finish can quickly feel like too many cooks in the kitchen; everyone’s got a hand in the dish and nobody can finish it alone. Who’s going to be responsible for following up on loose ends, ensuring communications and exchange of information is handled in a timely and complete manner? You need a leader who sets the course of action and ensures all “cooks” execute their portion of the “dish” correctly and the “ingredients” move through the “kitchen” effectively. That leader is the strategy consultant team at J. Whitney & Co.
A strategic consultant (or consulting team) is the main point of contact for all things application related. Their primary objective is ensuring the applicant(s) are preparing the strongest, most accurate license application possible. This includes reviewing the applicant’s starting point — who composes the ownership and management team, what relevant experience does the team offer, what makes the team unique, what are some of the shortcomings, etc.; additionally, the consultant team is primarily responsible for setting expectations and making recommendations to maximize the application’s potential, such as: how many licenses to seek, which jurisdictions are most compatible for their situation, the perceived capabilities of the team and where they can improve, crafting compelling narratives for team members, advising on socially minded and community engagement opportunities to distinguish the application, and any other items related to the applicant’s as individuals. Eventually, the consultant team is responsible for compiling and reviewing all pertinent information, formatting to the state’s precise and unforgiving instructions, and submitting the finalized product to the appropriate governmental agencies.
Let’s consider some of the most important aspects of a winning application, how the guidance of specific professionals can propel your license application to the finish line, and why the strategic consultant is the first and most important support system you need.
Legal professionals are incredibly important when preparing a quality application. It is essential that all business relationships are clearly outlined and agreed to by all involved parties. Conflicts of interest and legal misunderstandings can sandbag a project quicker than possibly any other aspect of the application. As with almost any business venture, there are jurisdictional and industry standards implemented through legislative regulations, and the cannabis industry is no exception. Complicating matters further, regulatory oversight can vary dramatically from one state to another, or even one jurisdiction to the next within a state. Having a qualified, industry specialized legal team is indispensable to protect the legal and financial interests of all involved parties and ensure the most appropriate guidelines are adhered to in the verbiage of the application.
Arguably as important as legal counsel is a qualified, industry specific financial advisor. The success of your application will largely depend on the financial picture presented to the state and effectively demonstrating your ambitions are compatible with your capital resources. For existing cannabusinesses, this means evidencing years of financial statements for your current operation(s). For new applicants, this requires showing you have the capital resources to not only open the facilities for which you’re applying, but also weather any unprofitable periods. In addition to assessing the direct financial management of the company, tax records demonstrating good standing for all individual applicants, their auxiliary businesses, and the cannabusiness (if applicable), are frequently requested as part of the application submission, or following the conditional award of license(s).
It’s unsurprising that a significant portion of cannabis regulation directly pertains to security. While the specifics can vary widely from state to state, they share one goal of maintaining the secure and proper transfer of cannabis products between businesses and from business to consumer. Ensuring safe storage and accurate records of all cannabis is a multifaceted public safety issue, from diversion to the black market to ensuring quality medicine for qualified patients. An important part of your lengthy security proposal should be an explicit staffing plan which utilizes an experienced and licensed security team.
As with most facility design, cannabis operations must adhere to precise standards for cannabis business as well as meet any applicable guidelines to public spaces in general. For example, almost all public spaces have occupancy capacities set by the fire marshal. Requirements unique to cannabusinesses might include expectations for camera surveillance, restricted access areas, or equipment to prevent or reduce offensive odors. It is important to have a capable architect who is familiar with state specific cannabis building regulations.
In some instances, submitting a proposed location that meets cannabis specific zoning requirements is required. Beyond cannabis specific zoning, other zoning or regulatory stipulations can impact the viability of your location. Examining demographics, traffic patterns, and consumer habits is another important factor to consider when selecting the best location for the business’ efficacy. We recommend partnering with a licensed commercial real estate agent to make this process as painless and transparent as possible.
Branding and Marketing
As this industry remains controversial, responsible branding and marketing is of the utmost importance. Most states have stringent requirements on imagery and wording associated with your particular brand, the advertising mediums used, as well as specific disclosures and advisories required on all products, packaging, and marketing materials. Make a memorable impression on state evaluators by submitting a professionally designed branding and marketing strategy that meets all regulatory standards.
Experienced Cannabis Professionals
Understanding the life cycle of commercial cannabis is essential to running a safe and profitable business. If your core team doesn’t have previous experience in the cannabis industry, it could be a detriment when state officials rank the applications and award the winners. Partnering with experienced cultivators, producers, and dispensary operators to serve as “cannadvisors” will demonstrate to the state you have proactively sought education and guidance to ensure smooth and appropriate starting operations.
With so many moving parts and so many nuanced requirements for a complete application, getting in over your head can happen before you know it, leaving you thrashing to stay above water. That’s why partnering with an experienced strategic consulting firm is the smartest and most proactive move you can make when embarking on this exacting journey. The J. Whitney & Co. team has established all of these trusted relationships and extends their expertise to our clients to produce the application of your dreams. In the event our support team isn’t equipped for your specific needs, we will properly vet and secure new connections to suit the application’s requirements. If your applicant team already has some or all of these professionals secured, we can assist in the transmission and compilation of required documents, ensuring complete and accurate final submission to the state.
Successful applications are the product of copious planning and problem solving, thorough understanding of the application parameters, stringent awareness of applicable regulations, and the committed participation of all owners. You're likely a pretty busy person as it is. Let our team of experienced consultants alleviate the incredible amount of work and coordination needed to help your application be its best!