Tricks of the Trade
Over a decade ago, Kenny Morrison opened up two medical cannabis collectives in West Los Angeles and Venice. Years later, he founded VCC Brands (formerly the Venice Cookie Co.) and co-founded its Washington-based sister company, Evergreen Herbal. Morrison is taking the cumulative experience of owning and operating retail businesses, manufacturing and production businesses and applying it to the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association (CCMA) as President and as a Board Member of the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA.) CCMA has been actively lobbying for fair regulations for the future of legal cannabis business in California. These regulations are essential, as California’s cannabis industry is projected by New Frontier Data to be worth more than $6.59 billion by 2025.
Morrison recalls how he has seen California’s cannabis industry transition from the pre-Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) “wild west” era to where it is now. “Over the past I have operated in a shadowy environment completely devoid of regulation, and I’ve navigated an environment that experienced overly burdensome freshman regulations,” Morrison told CULTURE. “I’m more of a survivor than a business man. But a friend recently pointed out that in corporate America those two things are often one and the same.” VCC Brands has expanded to sell infused honey, chocolate, cookies, candy and beverages. All of Morrison’s products, such as the award-winning Cannabis Quencher line, are all labeled clearly and concisely and are consistent with state regulations. Leading by example, Morrison has shown dedication to promoting responsible practices in this industry.
As president of the CCMA, Morrison is paying close attention to regulatory changes as California lawmakers attempt to build a bridge between MCRSA and Proposition 64. “Simply put, we want to ensure a strong business climate for California cannabis businesses, namely producers of cannabis and cannabis products,” Morrison said. “This keeps us very focused and allows us to rely on and work closely with other great cannabis trade associations, like CCIA and California Growers Association (CGA).” The CCMA represents trusted cannabis brands, many of which are represented by board members, including Jetty Extracts, Cheeba Chews, Altai Brands, Kiva Confections, 710 Combinator, Herbalcure and Hashman Infused.
Morrison is on the board of the CCIA along with Kristi Knoblich, who is COO of Kiva Confections. Knoblich also chairs the CCIA’s Manufacturing Committee. “CCMA is laser-focused on the issues of top concern to manufacturers. With this approach, we can more effectively tackle issues from two different angles.” The two groups are able to work in tandem on issues and support each other where needed. Knoblich said that each of the two groups support the other by working together.
“Simply put, we want to ensure a strong business climate for California cannabis businesses, namely producers of cannabis and cannabis products.”
Members of the CCMA are committed to tracking and tracing each of their product batches, and they use third-party testing multiple times. Consistency of their products is crucial for building a foundation of trust with their consumers. “Our members are some of the oldest and well-known brands in the business,” Morrison said. For those interested in becoming a part of CCMA, the organization accepts new members by invitation.
The CCMA helped to successfully lobby Gov. Jerry Brown to make alterations to state laws that regulate cannabis businesses. Many of the CCMA’s concerns were addressed in the governor’s Trailer Bill Language. Although nothing is finalized before the gavel strikes, few groups have done more to protect cannabis businesses in California than the CCMA and the CCIA. Originally, the exclusory distribution license in California was only available to third-party companies. The CCMA helped push for open distribution.
Open distribution helps infant businesses enter the cannabis space. By providing California cannabis cultivators with legal outlets of distribution, they are essentially discouraging out-of-state diversion. “Manufacturers’ products have logos imprinted directly on them, or packaging that says, ‘Made in California’ on it, so a manufacturer’s temptation to divert outside the state is far, far less,” Morrison said.
Morrison expects that California could face similar problems that plagued Oregon when recreational cannabis testing standards were first implemented. If necessary changes aren’t made, thousands of businesses and their investors may be negatively affected. “We anticipate the need for additional third party testing labs, or increased throughput at the existing labs to ensure that cannabis and cannabis products can get to market in a timely fashion,” Morrison said.
“Over the past I have operated in a shadowy environment completely devoid of regulation, and I’ve navigated an environment that experienced overly burdensome freshman regulations. “I’m more of a survivor than a business man. But a friend recently pointed out that in corporate America those two things are often one and the same.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is currently the only union that represents cannabis workers in California. When it comes to unionization, Morrison is comfortable with the UFCW than the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). “[The IBT wants] more members. God bless ‘em. They are going to gain some from the cannabis industry, I would imagine,” Morrison explained. “However, the UFCW has been occupying the cannabis space for years, long before these Teamsters got interested and has demonstrated a much better understanding of the needs and culture of our particular industry.”
Other business owners could benefit from the way Morrison has handled his own businesses, prioritizing his employees while simultaneously prioritizing his customer base. “You have to treat your staff as good as you treat your customers,” Morrison advises. “And of course HACCP [Food Safety] plans and published [Standard Operation Procedures] don’t hurt either.”