Now that you’ve made the business decision to enter the cannabis industry, your first objective is not only determining if you have your financials in order but most importantly is getting your cannabis license.
Cities and states have created regulations and processes that can either become a roadblock or a safe passage to your new business venture. And sometimes, those regulations go through changes at a moment’s notice, as some license applicants in Maryland discovered. The plain fact is that all of this is new, and none of the regulators have experienced working in an industry where the main product to be sold is federally illegal.
Think of it this way: Getting a cannabis license is not as easy as when you get a driver’s license. When you go to get your driver’s license, there are a few things you can expect. A long line, some state employees who are indifferent, and an objective test which requires no interpretation. You are almost assured you will be walking out of there with a driver’s license, provided you can read and drive.
Getting a cannabis license, although similar, is not as simple. The process is long, technical, and your application is subject to the interpretation of the person or panel that is scoring it. Not only that, but there are a limited number of licenses awarded, and the competition is extreme. For instance, Pennsylvania received around 500 applications, and is only awarding licenses for no more than 25 growers and 50 dispensaries.
Putting together a winning application is not only the most critical part of the process, but it is also the genesis of establishing a business in the cannabis industry. In my experience writing, reviewing, and editing cannabis applications, I suggest you consider the following as they may be three keys to a winning application.
Begin With the End in Mind
Before you consider and begin the application process, you should first define the vision you have for your organization. Think through what your facility will look like when it’s open. What will it look like in its second year of operation? What will the commerce look like and how will you adapt to growth? How will you enforce the many regulatory aspects that your license will mandate? How will you handle security, theft, and the safety of your employees? What will your sales process look like? How will you control and track your inventory? What impact will your facility have on the surrounding community?
Share this vision with your application writer. It’s always primary for the application writer to understand the client’s vision. This allows the writer to shape the application into something that’s not just something technical, but something that will show the person or panel scoring the application, and most importantly the state, that you are ready to enter the cannabis industry.
You Can Never be Too Accurate
State cannabis applications are very technical, and present regulations that have to be addressed for your application to succeed. Properly addressing these regulations requires a high level of clarity and accuracy. You don’t want to leave any room for interpretation – or misinterpretation.
For example, if the state says it wants you to notify the department within 24 hours of an event, and your application says you will notify the department of the event within one business day, then that’s not the same thing. These small, seemingly insignificant details are what separates successful applications from the competition.
Above All? Continuity
Often application writers outsource specific sections to other consultants who specialize in that field. Each consultant will cover whatever section they have experience writing. So, it’s possible you end up with an application that doesn’t flow well, lacks congruence, and varies widely in quality from section to section. Continuity between sections can be a key to a higher score.
For example, take the waste disposal and security sections of an application. While it might not be apparent on the surface, often these two sections overlap in important ways such as inventory tracking, access, storage, diversion, and record keeping. If those sections don’t correlate on the regulations, you could lose points in both areas.
Some applications allow for more discussion and description rather than a “check the box” routine. For example, there are many places on the 28-page Pennsylvania dispensary application for the application writer to use up t0 5,000 words in their response to questions about public access, diversity, community impact and 17 other sections of the application. This is a chance to demonstrate clarity and focus, and give the scoring reviewer a narrative that connects with them on a more one-to-one basis.
The fluidity and continuous quality of your application are critical to demonstrating that you understand the information you are presenting. Each section of the application is equally as important as the other. They all must work in concert to make a winning application.
The cannabis industry is gaining traction every day. As states and local governments continue to migrate toward the cannabis industry, the genesis of the legalization process is the application process. This is clearly the first place you want to over-deliver on expectations and bring vision, accuracy, and continuity in order to stand out from the competition.
Think of your cannabis application as the sole representation of your organization. You are putting together a puzzle full of details that form a bigger picture. It is prudent to protect your investment by putting forth your best application. As the old saying goes “You never get a second chance at making a first impression.”
This very first step in your journey to enterprise in the cannabis industry should be one of the defining moments and never underestimated.