In the latest episode of the Cannacurio Podcast from Cannabiz Media, my co-host, Amanda Guerrero, and I discuss hemp licenses across the country as well as microbusiness licenses in California. We also speak with Debra Borchardt, Co-Founder, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of Green Market Report, the cannabis industry’s central hub for financial, business and economic news as well as open source industry data insight and analysis.

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Cannacurio Podcast Episode 8 Transcript

Amanda Guerrero: Welcome back to the Cannacurio podcast. We’re your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating.On today’s show, we’re joined by Debra Borchardt of the Green Market Report. Debra’s been a long time friend of the Cannabiz Media family, and we’re so excited to have her on the show today.

But as always, before we check in with Deborah, let’s see what Ed’s learned this week from the data vault. Ed?

Ed Keating: Well, the team’s been working a lot on securing hemp data. It’s that season we’ve been talking about, where the licenses are getting issued nationwide in the spring, and people want to get seed in the ground. So last week, we got responses back from Oklahoma, West Virginia, Washington, Hawaii, North Dakota, a lot of states.

But, what’s interesting is from a few states, when we made these requests, we got denied because they only want to make data available for residents only. This happened in both Virginia and Tennessee.

Amanda Guerrero: Is this a common occurrence, Ed? How difficult is it to overcome this?

Ed Keating: It’s pretty uncommon, but there are ways to navigate around it. In some cases, like in Virginia, we have somebody on the Cannabiz team who’s in Virginia, so she can submit it on our behalf. In the case of Tennessee, there are services that can be used that can help you do things like this, to submit these kind of requests. It’s definitely a challenge, but it does happen.

In some cases, though, with hemp, and with other government records, the states are asking how the data’s going to be used that we get, which is a little bit annoying because that’s really not a Freedom of Information Act anymore, or freedom.

The other part, though, is we’ve been working in Connecticut, our home state, and I just did a blog post recently on Connecticut hemp licenses. The unique thing here is there are two regulators that manage the licenses, and we’re seeing that more and more in the hemp world. Where, unlike cannabis, where states often create this big, monolithic regulator, on the hemp side, I think they realize there’s no need to do that, let’s take advantage of the regulators we already have.

So, in Connecticut, it’s both the Department of Agriculture on the farming side and the Department of Consumer Protection for, essentially, what are edibles. We think that’s a pretty interesting development, and we think we’re going to perhaps see more of it as we look across the rest of the country.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, that seems like it would make the most sense. But, we’ve seen a lot of this vertical integration within the cannabis industry. Do you think this is going to become more of a common practice for hemp as well?

Ed Keating: Well, it’s a great point. It may be, in that certain states, it’s easy for somebody who’s getting a hemp license to grow to say, “Yeah, I’ll be a processor, too.” They just, essentially, check a box, and they have to write, maybe, a slightly bigger check for $15 or something like that.

But, in other cases, it can be more complex. You know, Colorado has a lot of different licenses. Florida just launched their hemp program, and it seems to be really broad in terms of the things they’re trying to license.

So yeah, I think we may see more of that. I think 2020 will be telling as a lot of states try and figure out what is their licensing scheme going to be, and they’ll see what kind of reception they get from the license holders.

Amanda Guerrero: Well, I’m definitely looking forward to hearing what you and the team find in the coming weeks, so thank you again for the update, Ed. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Debra Borchardt of Green Market Report. Stay tuned.

Welcome back, everybody. As I mentioned earlier, we’re joined by the one and only Debra Borchardt of Green Market Report. She’s the co-founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief, and a longtime friend of the Cannabiz Media team. Welcome, Debra.

Debra Borchardt: Thanks for having me.

Amanda Guerrero: We’re so excited to have you on the show. As I mentioned, you’ve got a few illustrious titles here, but we’d like to learn a little bit more about you. How long have you been in the industry?

Debra Borchardt: I’ve been covering cannabis for about the last seven years. Before I became a reporter, I worked on Wall Street, I was at Bear Stearns for 15 years. Then, I left and got my Master’s degree in business and economic reporting from NYU.

From there, I started working at TheStreet.com with Jim Kramer. Then, I began freelancing, and I started Green Market Report about three years ago this summer.

Amanda Guerrero: Oh, wow! I guess, for myself, why did you decide to start Green Market Report and get into the cannabis space?

Debra Borchardt: I was writing about cannabis at TheStreet.com, and when you look back at when I first started covering cannabis, which was around 2013, it was before Colorado had legalized adult use. There were a lot of sketchy pot stocks, as we like to call them, back then, and just a lot of shareholder fraud in the penny stock world with cannabis.

But, the problem was because these were tiny stocks and small, insignificant companies, they really weren’t getting covered anywhere. A lot of the mainstream media back then looked at cannabis as a joke, so there wasn’t any kind of serious coverage.

So, I started freelancing, because I just really loved the industry. I thought it was really fascinating from a financial reporter stand point of view. As I was freelancing at Forbes and other places, again, those mainstream media outlets really just wanted to stay at the top level of the reporting, they didn’t want to get into the real intricacies of some of these filings and some of these situations with these companies. They just wanted the 10 best edibles to buy kind of things, and I just wanted more.

So, as I was looking for more, I couldn’t find it. Then I figured, “Well, I can’t find the type of stories I want to read about the cannabis industry. I need to start doing them on my own.” That’s when I started Green Market Report.

Ed Keating: Well, that’s a great story and a great introduction to how you went about learning about the industry, and then really digging into it. I know, having collaborated on some stories, that you really do dig into the details of what’s happening with these companies and industries.

I’m curious, is that what you think makes you unique, as a media property? What else is there that makes Green Market Report a go-to source?

Debra Borchardt: Stand out? Sure. I absolutely think that is our secret sauce. It isn’t really, truly all that secret. It’s not rocket science what we’re doing. But, what we’re doing is taking the time to dig a little deeper, and also to put some of these stories into context.

I feel like what’s happening, say right now, is a company will put out a press release, the media will cover just that press release, and not remind the reader, “Oh yeah, by the way, this company did this, this, and that over the past six months.” Or, give some more background than what that press release is just telling you. That’s, I think, the big difference.

I’m kind of amazed that this happens a lot. Also, I think that some of the cannabis companies put pressure on the cannabis media to only cover them favorably. They do that, “Oh, but we’re colleagues.”

Ed Keating: Right, right.

Debra Borchardt: They almost see the press, the cannabis press, as advocates. I don’t do advocacy reporting, I don’t really do a whole lot of legislative reporting, unless it’s a super big deal. That’s just not my niche, that’s not what I’m focused on.

What I’m focused on is talking about these companies, and whether they’re healthy or not. And maybe, also highlighting some of the nonsense that might be happening with these companies. When you’ve got some cannabis press out there that’s reluctant to say anything bad, that’s not great for the shareholders.

To me, that’s what’s most important – is protecting shareholders money and their investments. Maybe that’s a little altruistic of me in this cynical world today, but it’s my journalistic calling. It certainly doesn’t make you a lot of money. I’d probably do better if I just invested, myself.

Ed Keating: Yeah, but it also is important for the industry, too, Debra, because for it to have a true following, and to really go mainstream, it needs to have a free press, if you will, to be able to dig into it.

Some of the questions I wanted to ask you, jumping around a bit, is you’ve covered some interesting stuff in the time that I’ve known you. Like, MassRoots as a story, and we recently saw where they just got $50,000 in Federal money. Or, lately with MedMen executives having to put up their homes as collateral. What’s your take on these? I mean, I’m sure there’s a long list of other ones, but these are the two that came to mind as I was thinking about speaking with you today.

Debra Borchardt: Well, you know Ed, it’s interesting because I just covered a story this week that’s really right up your alley, into the way that we work together. I know that sounds almost like a commercial and promotion to the listeners of the podcast, but this is actually how organic it works between Ed and I. I haven’t called you on the story, but I probably will end up, at some point.

Ed Keating: Good.

Debra Borchardt: We’ve got these licenses out in the West coast, that part of them were part of the Interurban Capital Group, I always say that dyslexic. Interurban Capital Group.

Ed Keating: Right, right, right.

Debra Borchardt: ICG. ICG sold this chunk of licenses, pending and operational so not all of them are stores that are opened and working, to harvest health and recreation, who then flipped them, within weeks, to High Times.

Now, you’ve got this set of licenses that have basically changed hands twice, over eight weeks. You have not seen that … I’m just following just one of these licenses, where the partner has said, “I haven’t agreed to this sell.”

Ed Keating: You could always ask the High Times CEO. Oh wait, but which one?

Debra Borchardt: Right, yeah. In this case, this Have A Heart dispensary, which from all intents and purposes, from what I’ve read, customers love the Have A Heart dispensaries. This particular one, the 40% owner says, “I didn’t sign off on this license to be sold, it can’t be sold.”

Ed Keating: Wow.

Debra Borchardt: Not only was it sold once, it was sold twice, and the San Francisco Cannabis Board hasn’t even agreed to any of these sales. So, it starts to get really complicated, from a journalistic point of view, of reporting on this when you’ve got one public – well, actually, one public company and one potentially public company – horse trading these licenses as if they were just pieces of commodity that could be horse traded, when they’re not.

Ed Keating: Wow.

Debra Borchardt: To make it even more complicated, this license in question that I’m speaking of was part of a social equity program. So technically, this person said, “If the license gets sold, I have to give up my ownership because it’s no longer a social equity license. I’m the social equity component of this license.”

Ed Keating: Wow, what a mess.

Debra Borchardt: Isn’t it a mess? Then, like you said, then you throw in the High Times. So many of us have been scratching our heads on why Harvest Health and Recreation sold these licenses to High Times. They’re just a mess right now as well.

Ed Keating: Yeah. It’s an interesting point. To be honest, I know our research team has been trying to track the movement because we’re trying to say, “What company owns this or companies?” Now, I think we’re just scratching our heads. It’s really not too clear.

Then, it almost gets into that forensic type of accounting, where you need a private investigator to start to figure out whose really behind the LLCs, if there are LLCs, and that corporate ownership. It’s definitely a messy one, and it’s a story that we’ve been noodling on as well. I’ll be excited to read what you wrote about that.

The other area I wanted to talk about, since we both come from the publishing industry, that’s where I spent most of my career, is that you’re doing a lot of things right that publishers do. You do events, you do newsletters, et cetera.

One of the things I wanted to dig into was you recently held an event around the psychedelic market. I was curious, how did that go, and what was that like? Because, that’s an area that we’re keeping an eye on. There aren’t licenses yet, but I think we all know that there will be at some point.

Debra Borchardt: It’s super interesting, and my event went really well. I kind of threw it together very last minute, and thankfully I did because, as you know with the COVID, we’ve had to basically cancel all our events, and that’s a huge portion of our income.

But, as we were looking at the calendar, we realized we needed to have an event early in 2020, because we had had to push some of our events out. Now, in hindsight, thank God we did because we sold out. The event was very successful; there was a tremendous amount of interest.

We were originally going to hold another one in San Francisco this summer, another psychedelic event, but now I just have no idea what the calendar is going to look like and when I can even start to plan this thing again.

It is super interesting. I think, investor-wise, these are not as fast of an exit as maybe some of the cannabis industry was. This is not going to be fast money. I think it’s going to veer more into the biotech type of calendar, where you end up you’re going to have to have FDA trials and studies and treat it almost like a pharmacological type of product.

It’s not going to be like – of course, this is just my interpretation – I don’t think it’s going to be like you rolling into a dispensary and picking up some psilocybin mushrooms for the weekend. I don’t foresee that, as much as I think a lot of people would like that.

Really, what people are getting into this market for is to treat drug resistant depression, to treat addiction. There have been a bunch of anecdotal studies here, and small, small group studies on the effectiveness of these products, particularly psilocybin. When you start to get into the whole psychedelics world, you go into this Pandora’s Box, where you get into the MDMA and the ayahuasca. I don’t really cover much of that. That’s going to get too far off my mission.

But, one of the reasons we named Green Market Report that agnostic name was so that we weren’t just beholden to cannabis. That was always part of our long-term vision, was to be able to go into sustainable reporting if we want. Go into other plant alternative medicine if we want.

Ed Keating: No, it makes sense. One of the things that I really liked, that I heard last week for one of the articles that covered this, described the whole mushroom idea under the broad rubric of plant-based medicine. I really liked that, because that sort of encompasses a lot.

Just like Cannabiz Media, when we chose that name, we weren’t doing media. We knew we were going to do data because that’s where we started, but it gives us the opportunity to hey, do podcasts, for example or, do blog posts or do publications, which we’ve done. They can all fit underneath that.

That, I think, makes a lot of sense. It’ll be interesting to see, and I’m glad I’ll be able to keep track of it through Green Market Report.

Debra Borchardt: It’s pretty interesting, and with mushrooms, it gets really even more, I guess, complicated because the spores themselves are not illegal. So, if you wanted to grow your own psilocybin mushrooms, you can buy the spores online. They’re not illegal. It’s just when they, apparently, then grow into the plant that they become illegal, so there is this craziness.

I do believe that they will start to … When they start to get it figured out, I think yeah, they’re going to start to really want some structure around people growing this product. Yeah, I could see you having mushroom facilities, or psilocybin mushroom facilities, that need to be licensed and monitored.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, understood. Well, it sounds like the psychedelic world is in its infancy but happy and relieved to know that people like you, Debra, are spending the time to investigate this and present this information to us.

Now, I wanted to go back to the virtual events topic. Ed mentioned the event that you guys did earlier this year. But, moving forward into the future, especially with COVID-19, a lot of media companies are going to virtual events or hosting virtual events. Do you think that this will be a sustainable events model?

Debra Borchardt: I don’t. Having said that, I’m actually partnering with a couple of companies that are doing some online events in June.

Listen, this is my guy. I’m so busy, personally, I don’t have time to jump into these podcasts. The few that I have jumped into, I’ve not found them to be that beneficial. I haven’t really gotten anything out of them, so then I click off because I’ve got to get back to work.

I just don’t know how effective these virtual events are. I think people are doing them because, to your point, they can’t do the in-person events. They want to be out there, they want to keep their name up to, they want to be visible, so that’s why they’re doing all this. Maybe for people that aren’t as busy as I am, they do have the time to sit on these things all day, or jump in and out.

The ones that I’ve seen that have been saying that they were charging for entrance into these virtual events, a day or two before the actual event, all of a sudden I get an email saying that it’s free now. A couple of them I’ve jumped into that did show how many people were on the event, there weren’t that many people. To me, they’re a lot of work to organize and to set up, and I just don’t see where it’s really paying off. One, financially, and two, even with your audience.

I could be wrong, but I know that there are a lot of … I can imagine if these things are not successful, we’re never going to hear about them. No one’s going to come out and say, “These virtual events suck. I’ve spent hours setting it up, 10 people jumped in, I got no money out of it, it burned up so much time on my calendar. I’m not doing them anymore.”

I don’t think anybody’s going to be honest and say that. I think they’re all going to go, “Yeah, virtual events, they’ve been great! Wow, we made so much money, and we had 300 people tune in.”

Amanda Guerrero: Well, I think it’s going to be part of the responsibility of the actual vendors themselves that are signing up to do this to bring some awareness to these events. But, I agree, it’s a little too early to tell whether or not these will be successful, but I do think that things like complimentary access to the first few virtual trade shows would go a lot further than initially charging, just trying to make their return.

Given your perspective here, and your thoughts on the virtual events, how do you feel about the directories of industry thought leaders? What has been the reception to things like that? Which ones have you done, and do you have anything in the queue? Lots of questions.

Debra Borchardt: Define the directories of thought leaders?

Amanda Guerrero: So, we’re talking more so lists, we’re talking more so pulling together industry panels, and things like that.

Debra Borchardt: Actually, it’s funny because we were going to do … Green Market Report was going to do a small … Here, I just blasted all this virtual stuff, but more like a small meeting of the minds, of some media people, some PR people. But, it was not like it was something we were going to charge for, or do big, open invitations. It was more of a confab of people saying, “Here’s what I’m seeing on the advertising, here’s what I’m seeing on the PR side, here’s what I’m seeing on the news side.” Because we’re all tied together, in this circle. And, having more of a conversation versus an actual event.

I think that, to me, is better in the sense that … It may be because I’m news, I’m already out there, I don’t need to put my face in front of everybody because it’s already in front of them as it is, every day.

Ed Keating: Well Debra, I was curious, though, about the report that you did on the top 11 cannabis law firms, that directory publishing model of finding some notable firms in important verticals. What was the reception to that one? And, do you have other ones in the queue? Or are those the ones you were talking about, with PR, and other service verticals?

Debra Borchardt: So, those types of things, I have a love hate with those articles, to be perfectly honest. Those articles, I do them because they attract interest, they attract page views, people retweet them, they send them back out on social media.

So, for me, doing those types of articles is a way to engage my audience, and to bring people back and get a dialogue about these companies that get listed. Whether it’s women or PR firms, I do these for a specific purpose which is to have another way to engage my audience without it being a news hook for them to read.

Ed Keating: Right. It also shows an opinion, too. Choices have to be made. Some people are on the list, and some people are not, and that always generates interest.

Debra Borchardt: Yeah, my inbox, every time those go up, my inbox gets pounded with people saying, “What about me, why wasn’t I on the list?” Their feelings get hurt.

Ed Keating: Those are all advertising leads and sponsorship leads, hopefully, for your next event, too.

Debra Borchardt: You know, honestly, I tell some of the people that. It’s like, “Well, Mr. So-and-so, every time I call you, you tell me no comment. So yeah, I didn’t put you in the best communicator list because literally every single email from you about your company is no comment. How do I put you in a best communicator list, when you only tell me no comment?”

Ed Keating: Brilliant.

Debra Borchardt: Come on, dude. What is wrong with you? But, it’s interesting that you brought out the legal list and the directory, because I worked on that with Shawn Hawking, at the Cannabis Law Blog, because I don’t know that many lawyers, thankfully. He helped me come up with that list. Then, as a result of that, he’s decided that he’s going to do a directory for lawyers in the cannabis industry. That will be a revenue producer for him. Then, if I’m able to make a referral for a lawyer firm that signs up for this directory, for the upgraded package, I guess, I’ll get some revenue out of that.

So, it becomes a nice way to take this thing that we can’t stand doing, in a way, but it’s important to do, and now turn it into a bit of a revenue producer. Not a big revenue producer, but it’s something that helps keep the lights on.

Amanda Guerrero: Understood, understood. So Debra, looking forward to the future here, does Green Market Report have any new product launches, or new initiatives that we should be looking forward to?

Debra Borchardt: We’re super excited. Because we had this time where things have hit the pause button, we do have a new website we’re going to be launching in about four to five weeks. We’ve been able to put our tech officer back on, focusing on this product. He doesn’t work for us full-time, and he’s been crazy busy over the last year.

We have this product that’s called Candex, and we expect to launch in about four to five weeks. It’s a stock website. It is just cannabis stocks. Each company will have a profile, we’re not … It’s not like a directory in the sense that the companies pay for an upgraded profile. That does not happen. But, what we’ll have happen is the users can subscribe to an upgraded package.

Right now, what we’re going to roll out is just the free site, so people can see it, play with it, get familiar with it. Then, we’ll introduce the subscriber model a few months later down the road.

It’s super cool looking. We’re going to have news feeds from Business Wire. We’re going to have the stories from Green Market Report. Each of these companies, you can pop up their profile and see all kinds of financial statistics, have a chart for their price action.

We’re going to have a social function within this website, so that traders can set up a profile. Then, they can say, “Oh, I bought Cronos Group this week.” Or, “Oh, I sold MassRoots this week.” This is great stock, this is a bad stock. Then, they can talk amongst each other.

Right now, that’s happening but in all these different channels. So, you’ve got investor groups on Facebook or you’ve got direct mail groups on Twitter, so there’s a lot of stock jocks talking about cannabis stocks but in all these very fractured places.

Ed Keating: It will be better than the Yahoo! Finance message boards, back from the Dot Com era, right?

Debra Borchardt: It will be … You know what, Ed? It will be not unlike that. Now, I don’t know whether we can keep people from pumping and dumping, I think that’s going to be something we just … Usually what happens in that situation is the social forums take care of themselves, and bust people for that.

Ed Keating: You get a beat down if you start leading people astray.

Debra Borchardt: You do, you get publicly shamed. I’m real excited about it. I think that, for me personally, in this time of challenge, to be able to come out in the middle of this and say, “Oh hey, we have a new product,” instead of slinking through the market with my tail between my legs or flogging myself over how bad things are. Instead, we’re coming at this from a position of strength and saying, “Wow. Well, while we had this downtime, hey, we created a new product.”

Ed Keating: Excellent, congrats.

Amanda Guerrero: I love it. That’s kind of how the Cannacurio Podcast came to be as well. In the beginning of the year, we had the idea to shed some new light on the Cannacurio blogs that Ed has been doing. Since this whole quarantine has happened, we’ve recorded so many podcasts. It really is a great feeling to come out of quarantine feeling positive and productive. So, kudos to you, Debra, and the Green Market team.

Debra Borchardt: Thank you. You know, the cannabis media has seen a lot of contraction. Over the last six months, we’ve seen some of our competitors go out of business, and we have managed to stay strong, stay active. We have no debt. We’ve been bootstrapped. We’re small but we’re growing. We just signed with Quote Media, so, you’ll start to see our stories showing up with whoever is doing the news, their news, with the Quote Media feed.

Our stories are mostly on publicly traded stocks, so the companies, again, that sign up for that, our stories will start to appear alongside some of the other bigger media, whether it’s Business Insider or Benzinga. I’m excited about that, and that should be underway … We just got that all installed, so hopefully those stories will start showing up in the feeds next week.

Amanda Guerrero: I love it. Well, we’ll definitely be on the lookout for these upcoming feeds. I just want to say thank you so much, Debra, for joining us on today’s podcast. I learned a tremendous amount, especially your insights on the psilocybin community here, and the equation to the bio track here, in terms of a timeline, I think is really informative. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Debra Borchardt: Well, thank you for having me. I miss seeing Ed in the conference world, so one day soon, we’ll be able to hang out at one of these conference floor happy hours again.

Ed Keating: I know.

Amanda Guerrero: I love it, I love it. Well, thanks so much, Debra.

Debra Borchardt: Thank you.

Amanda Guerrero: Ed, what do we have to look forward to from the data vault?

Ed Keating: What we’re looking at now are California microbusiness licenses. I think as most people know, they were created as a way to encourage craft cannabis, so small businesses can engage in this industry and they don’t get overrun by the Starbucks or the big alcohol coming into the space.

In California, a licensee has to engage in at least three activities. It could be retail, delivery, cultivation, distribution, transport, or manufacturing. So, what the team did is we took a look at all 270 or so licenses issued so far, and we dug into the license permissions to see what did people choose to do.

What surprised us was distributor was the top choice of those six choices. 97% of the people with a microbusiness chose that. Then, 91% chose to be a manufacturer. You had to go all the way down to the fourth spot to actually find retail. That was only chosen by about 35%, which we think is kind of interesting.

We’re going to dig into that a bit more and do a Cannacurio blog post coming up on that just to show how many activities people chose to do and which ones they went ahead and made a part of their business.

Amanda Guerrero: I’m very curious to hear the results here, Ed. Thanks so much.

As always, thank you everyone for joining us on today’s podcast. We’re your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. Stay tuned for more updates from the data vault.