Interview: Transitioning to a Regulated, Adult-Use Cannabis Program
With Matthew Ledbetter
BioTrackTHC Cannabis Implementation Senior
We sat down with our Colorado office employee, Matthew Ledbetter, to ask him about what it’s like going from unregulated to regulated and what should California expect. Matthew Ledbetter is a BioTrackTHC Implementation Senior who has helped set up and implement hundreds of licensed cannabis operations for every segment of the seed-to-sale lifecycle in every region that cannabis is grown and sold legally. Having begun as a grower in Colorado back in 2009, Matthew has been through it all as he’s pioneered the industry transition one state at a time from unregulated to regulated. With over 8 years in legal cannabis, he has his sights set on California. As the largest cannabis market in the world prepares to undergo a monumental shift in how it operates, what should licensees expect and how can they prepare?
Q: Tell us about your experience in the cannabis industry. How long have you been involved, what segments have you been a part of?
A: I began working in the industry around 2009 when things were just getting going in Colorado. I started off working at a modest grow, then eventually got my own small grow. From there, I went on to work for a small dispensary before getting hired by a larger, more well-funded full-vertical operation. Eventually, I came to oversee the majority of the full-vertical business from the large grow and the processing facilities, to all of the tracking and inventory management needs for 2 dispensaries and 2 grows, both medical and recreational. In summary, I’ve been closely involved with and managed every facet of the seed-to-sale cannabis life-cycle. Growing, trimming, extraction, packaging, transportation, wholesale, retail and of course, compliance and more compliance. Now with BioTrackTHC I can add consulting and teaching to that list!
Q: How long have you been with BioTrack and what is your role there?
A: I was hired from managing the full-vertical business with a heavy emphasis on supply-chain, inventory, and tracking management, by BioTrack in 2014. My role at BioTrack is to help businesses set up their seed-to-sale software in a way that cooperates with their workflows. And vice versa, I help them optimize their operations to create a smooth and compliant seed-to-sale workflow that not only keeps your business safe, but also provides useful data capture and business insights. In my 3 years with BioTrack, I’ve helped implement compliant seed-to-sale tracking workflows in every region and for every license type for hundreds of businesses.
Q: So getting started in 2009, you’ve seen what it’s like to move an unregulated business to a fully compliant, tracked, and regulated business. What is the most important lesson you learned while transitioning from an unregulated to a regulated operation?
A: I would say being mindful that with added bureaucracy you will have a small addition to labor and the time it takes to do normal things, which can be both good and bad. It’s hard and unintuitive to learn the same process, but with added steps that you used to consider unnecessary. With that said, it’s far better from a business analytics and growth perspective. I’m kind of a data hound, so anytime I can find ways to collect and analyze data on my operations, I’m interested. When the compliance rules and regulations sort of force you into extra work, just remember that the extra work will yield valuable information that allows you to take your business to the next level. As you implement new workflows and seed-to-sale systems, take your time, plan way ahead, and expect there to be changes throughout the entire business. Just be patient and remember there will be mistakes and a learning curve, but the whole industry will be learning alongside you.
Q: How did transitioning from never keeping records, to keeping extremely detailed, accurate records of your entire business and supply-chain, affect your workflows and immediate operations?
A: One of the first things I noticed was that once we implemented a cannabis-specific POS and tracking system, which was BioTrackTHC, it gave our whole company a common backbone to organize from. Suddenly, writing and fine-tuning SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) became straightforward and discovering where our weak links were became an easy process.
One thing not all cannabis software’s and cannabis POS’s offer that made my life much easier were action logs; I could see every change made in the system, the individual responsible, and the date/time they performed the action. Even more, I was able to set granular permissions so only certain employees could access and perform certain tasks, drastically limiting the opportunity for human error. Nothing is scarier than having 35+ employees plugging info into the same system that also determines your compliance and ability to avoid hefty fines. I enjoyed my day off a little more knowing that there were far less chances of user error and when there was an error (and believe me, there will be errors), I could easily identify them and make corrections.
Q: With that kind of a learning curve, how can licensees prepare ahead of time?
A: The rules and regs are already out there, so study up. They’re likely to still change before reaching a final state, but the tracking, reporting, and record-keeping requirements will remain mostly unchanged. Learn about what data points you’ll have to report and start thinking about where in your current process does that data point surface? What data point do you need to report next and is your workflow setup in a way that data point 2 follows data point 1 organically? Whatever you find, start working towards a workflow that gathers that required data in a logical, efficient workflow.
Q: Why did you choose to leave the field and join the software/consulting side?
A: Well, when I first started it was much, much earlier in the formation of regulated, adult-use programs. I had used a variety of different tracking softwares and it quickly became apparent that there was a disconnect on the software side in understanding the true needs and bottlenecks of a licensed operation, so I felt like I could inform that disconnect and help close the gap.
I also hope to share my experience moving from a grey market to a regulated, adult-use market to those who have been involved as long as I have (and some MUCH longer than I have) and who are scared, excited, concerned, nervous, and all of the above, about tracking and reporting on a supply-chain that we long feared would get us raided, shut down, and legally charged. I know it’s nerve-racking and seems like uncharted ground, but take it from someone who has helped hundreds of businesses do it; you’ve got this! You’ll need a little help at first, and there will be lots of change coming at a rapid pace, but anytime you feel overwhelmed or uncertain, step back, take a deep breath, and remember you only have to do this once. After you set up your new, compliant tracking workflows, then changes become smaller and easier to implement. There are experienced partners like us that can help make this painless and being one of the individuals that will help you do it, we’re SO excited to get you there! California is going to be a game-changer and everyone is super excited to help bring the largest cannabis market in the world into the adult-use market!
Q: What is the most important tool you need to succeed as a licensed operator?
A: Good people. Thoughtful people that are passionate, who enjoy working as a team, and contribute to the culture you want to establish, will take you farther than anything else you can do. When you choose the right people, replace the ones that don’t fit, and support them with what they need to be successful both at, and away from work, you will cultivate a team that will not let small things slip, will be there for you when things go wrong, and fuel their passion for the cannabis industry to succeed. Take care of your team and they will keep your business compliant and running efficiently.
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