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Acting and Reacting

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

The only constant, is change.

Creating the “How-to’s” for any new industry is not an easy task. It’s just not the kind of thing that happens all the time. If you’re participating in this nascent process, it’s important to remember this, because you’re going to be subjected to a barrage of changing rules and procedures. And the process of rethinking everything, all the time, is going to become a common practice.

You still want to start with a business plan, because you want to lay out your ideas on how you think this should/could be done. We are all literally inventing this. We’re just making it up as we go, so you should get your vision down on paper. Then, you take that vision to someone else, who’s also making it up (or most likely who’s following the rules of those who are making it up), and they either approve of it or not. It’s important to remember that the stakeholders are numerous, and everyone has prejudices and opinions.

The process of rethinking everything, all the time, will become common practice.

Industry Standards? What Industry Standards?

In Oregon, we’ve had retail cannabis for 8 years, and it’s been full-on Adult-Use for 6. But we still don’t have any idea what we’re doing. There are “best practices” and “Industry standards” but they’re always changing too, so are they really those things? It’s yet another reminder that this is all random. We're all making it up as we go. Sure the legislature set some guidelines, the OLCC made some rules. But we, the industry participants, take it from there and do whatever we can dream up. Then the OLCC comes up with (what I’m sure they think is) the best solution to some perceived problem, with some random adjustment. Then we are forced to do the same. We once had the impression that somehow this would all make sense. That impression faded fast.

I really like our farm, Epic Family Farms in Talent, Oregon. Outside of the trials and tribulations of the cannabis industry itself, the farm is an extremely beautiful place to be. It is located in a fertile valley surrounded by low, rolling green mountains, known for its epic sunrises and sunsets. The sky is big here. In the midst of hillsides rolling with wine grapes and pear orchards, we nestled our 2.1 acre cultivation facility, with 40,000sq feet of sungrown canopy.

The Original Facility Layout Design

Our facility, like many, is a large rectangle laid out in blocks and rows. When we started it was 6 blocks of 6-7 rows, with pathways between each row, and a “road” down the center. 3 blocks on each side, plus a seventh block that was repurposed to the greenhouses.

We were growing the maximum sq footage of “canopy.” According to the initial, founding set of regulations, the definition of “canopy” was “anywhere there was a living plant," leaftip to leaftip. It doesn’t matter how wide your soil bed might be, or whether your plant is inside or outside the boundaries of the bed. It’s the plant that matters. If they decided that you were over your tier size, they could conceivably cut back or pull your plant, so everything fits within your maximum allowable canopy. That’s how we pictured the layout of the facility, that's how we planted our crop.

We had already completed our first year of licensed recreational production. The market had tanked, and we were reduced to a crew of 3 (2 owners and a GM) to tackle processing and distribution. I never liked trimming, nor was I every any good at it. But there I was, trimming. Yet, we soldiered on. By early spring we were able to hire one person back. Being the new core 4, and a company that prided itself on keeping up with such things, we went together to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) Rules Update. New rules. Sweet.

While everyone loves a good powerpoint presentation, I personally must admit that I tend to occasionally… lose focus. In the midst of one of these moments of wandering mind, I heard the phrase “canopy designation.” My brain did not recognize it. I immediately snapped to. “Wait… what?”

So, apparently, the OLCC had decided that we growers needed to assign “canopy designations”' to our layout. There would be a maximum of 20 areas of designation. These areas would then make up the sum total of our allowable square footage.

Now, If we just used the obvious, existing layout of the facility as the canopy designations, the 'blank spaces,' such as the pathways in between the rows, would be counted as canopy whether there was a living plant there or not. So, If we did just use the obvious existing layout of the facility, we would be way over capacity! WTF?!

It took a little bit of time to come up with a solution. With the application of brains and some back and forth, and we were able to come up with a presentation that would work. We could keep the existing farm layout, and combine areas as presented in the image below. Victory! Even still, there is a chunk of square footage of potential production space eaten up by blank space, solely due to this random concept of canopy designations.

A redesigned presentation of our facility layout
Required Canopy Designations

Now, if it ultimately wasn’t that big of a deal, why still be

worked up about it in hindsight. The issue was “why?”

Did anything actually change? No. It just caused a scramble and unnecessary stress until we figured out how to present our space the way they wanted it presented.

As I said before, there are a lot of stakeholders to please. I saw a lot of sense in many of the rules, but this one seemed left field. And it’s a reminder. again, that no one really knew what they were doing. The OLCC was just reacting, to what we may never know, with a seemingly random adjustment, and the chain reaction of reacting had begun.

We certainly couldn’t have seen this thing coming and it caused a stressful situation, in the midst of the stressful situation we already found ourselves.

So, even once approved, your business plan can only be just an outline. As every successful entrepreneur knows, you as an individual, and as an organization, need to be ready to improvise. To turn on a dime. You and your organization need to become what I call “Mentally Nimble.” There is no one set path. Not only that, the chances are very high that the path will change drastically at a moment’s notice, or at the very least, throw seemingly large distractions and obstacles in your way that need to be overcome and organized through. The regulations are the things that sit in-between you and your plan of operation.

Keep a clear head, brainstorm with others, and a solution will present itself. Sometimes it's just about repackaging the situation to make it appear like they want to see it. It’s a bird not a dragon. Is that a donkey? No, it’s a bunny rabbit. Is that 2 rows? No, it’s a single canopy designation.

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