Leland Radovanovic, Author at Green Market Report

Leland is a public relations professional experienced in social justice, behavioral change, and advocacy campaigns. A long-time cannabis legalization activist, he's worked in top communications positions driving strategy to sway audiences and change minds.

Recent Stories by Leland Radovanovic
Leland RadovanovicApril 4, 20229min00

This article is part of an ongoing series from the Green Market Report covering some of the biggest challenges facing the California cannabis market in 2022.

Part 1 – Burdensome Legislation

The first quarter of 2022 has been busy with newly proposed cannabis bills in California, with more than two dozen bills submitted in the California State Assembly and Senate. Lawmakers introduced bills at a dizzying rate addressing a range of issues from insurance (AB-2568) and CEQA (SB-1148) to clearing criminal convictions (AB-1706) and re-felonizing homegrown cannabis (AB-1725).

In the haystack is a needle of a bill, SB-1097, introduced on February 16, 2022, by Senator Pan. SB-1097, which would impose new health warning labeling rules for cannabis packaging and advertising, could drastically change the cannabis brand landscape.

It is an important backdrop to understand that among the many roles Dr. Richard Pan has, he is a pediatrician and chairs the Senate Committee on Health. In the first section of the bill, Senator Pan presents studies of rising adolescent cannabis use, increasing use during pregnancy, and lowered perceptions of health harms with cannabis use, among other stats. It’s his “why.”

The bill would require that by January 1, 2025, in addition to the currently required labels, cannabis and infused products other than topicals include one of a set of warning labels that covers at least 1/3 of the front in 12-point type with a bright yellow background and a pictorial or graphic element. Products must have the rotating warning labels batched and equally divided between the mandated messages. 

While the bill would give operators and brands until 2025 to become compliant, operators with slim margins will still take a bottom-line hit.

Ryan Jennemann, co-founder and CEO of THC Design, a Los Angeles-based cultivator, says that the initial cost of changing out displays is in the tens of thousands of dollars, not including the packaging. “Let’s just say the packaging [cost] increases by 10-20 cents; there’s $5,000-$10,000 a month moving forward conservatively,” Jennemann stated.

Jennemann also makes the case that, in particular, brands with small packaging will need to increase their size to accommodate the proposed health warning labels that “it’s bad for the environment to be pumping out a bunch more plastic packaging.”

Geoff Doran, CEO and founder of Van Doran Brands, a cannabis flower brand headquartered in Los Angeles, points out that “no other industry in the US has warning labels like the ones being proposed.”

“The concerning part is that we are already running out of space on packaging in order to comply with the current regulations,” Goeff Continued.

SB-1097 would also mandate a full-page printed flyer or folded brochure that includes warnings for safer use of cannabis, including starting with small doses, warning of edibles’ delayed effects, and the health warnings required on product packaging mentioned above. All this must be in 12-point type, have no advertisements, use the heading “Health Warning from the State of California,” and be given to a consumer at sale or delivery.

Lastly, the bill would require physical and online advertisements for cannabis or a cannabis brand to include the health warnings that cover at least 15 percent of the ad in the upper right corner and have a bright yellow background. Radio, television, and video advertisements would require the same rotating warnings. 

Tracey Mason, the co-founder and CEO of House of Saka, a California company producing cannabis-infused beverages, thinks the bill is another nail in the coffin of an already struggling industry in California.

“It is punishing and ill-informed in nature, further serving to underscore the outdated and consistently refuted notion that cannabis use is somehow more dangerous or deadly than other intoxicants – like alcohol and prescription drugs – with zero data on which to base those claims,” stated Mason.

The rotating warning label language required on products, brochures, and advertisements is included in SB1097 with additional language for edibles and inhaled products. Only one warning would be required on the packaging at a time.

The ten rotating messages range from telling consumers to buy legal cannabis, not to use cannabis while breastfeeding, or that cannabis is not for kids or teens. 

WHO Guidelines

Eddie Kirby, the communications director for Senator Pan, pointed to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines for effective packaging and labeling of tobacco products, used in countries like Italy and Mexico, as established best practices that Senator Pan wants in California for cannabis products. 

The WHO guidelines include packaging recommendations such as using pictures or a graphic for the warning label, bright colors and larger font sizes for visibility, and how much space the health warnings should take up.

Kirby also explained that Senator Pan is trying to create new cultural safety norms about cannabis with the label system, similar to what we have in the U.S. for alcohol. 

“You don’t say chug; you say know your limits, and this new industry needs that,” Kirby explained.

Mason argues that the proposed language is ultimately not helpful to consumers, that “they will not have access to real information about how to best use and enjoy our products because the limited space we have to offer a level of education on our packaging will be lost to hyperbolic language not grounded in reality.”

The bill is set for a hearing on April 4, 2022, and the public can currently comment through the California legislative information website.

Leland RadovanovicMarch 3, 202211min00

A New Jersey cannabis license applicant is suing the state and claiming that some license winners were using certain women as props to get special female-owned business license. Curio Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of privately-owned Curio Wellness based out of Maryland,  filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of NJ, Appellate Division (#A-000947-21), against New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) for a stay of Alternative Treatment Center license awards in the Central Region, alleging application fraud from several of the awardees of the coveted licenses. 

Curio Holdings is claiming that because of  fraudulent Women Business Enterprise certifications (WBE) Altus New Jersey, LLC (Altus) and Holistic NJ I LLC (Holistic) among others, should have their license awards withdrawn and a stay on awards put in place.

WBE certifications are acquired through the Department of Treasury, Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services. To qualify for the M/WBE certification,, a business or enterprise has to be either be fully owned and controlled by a minority or woman or has 51% ownership interest or stock held by minorities and/or women and the management and daily business operations are controlled by one or more of the minorities and/or women who own it. Applicants get 90 points out of a possible 900 points for being a minority or women-led company.

Curio Holdings writes that NJCRC previously responded to its question on whether it fully vetted individual company M/WBE credentials by stating that “[a]pplicants that provided an approved New Jersey Department of Treasury issued MBE/WBE/Veteran-Business/Disabled Veteran Business certification were awarded the maximum points for this category.” In other words, NJCRC trusts the department’s certifications. 

Tangled Web Of Connections

The lawsuit outlines the alleged fraudulent WBE certifications for Altus, Holistic, AP NJ Health, and CHM Consulting, but the Altus and Holistic allegations are a tangled web of relationships and potential corporate system gaming.

Altus’ principal ownership lists  Katherine Bio. The lawsuit alleges that she has little to no experience in the management or daily operations of a cannabis business and has not been seen or heard at any of the previous host community approval meetings, nor was her ownership and Altus’ WBE certification touted publicly. Ms. Bio did however hold the principal position of “medical advisory committee” for Standard Farms, a once troubled Pennsylvania-licensed cannabis cultivator. Tilt Holdings (OTC: TLLTF) acquired Standard Farms in 2019 in a deal valued at $40 million. The company said that Bio was no longer associated with Standard Farms.

Instead of Bio, Robert Pease and Peter Goldrath have publicly represented Altus. Pease was the previous president and chief financial officer at Franklin BioScence. Mr. Goldrath was co-founder of Standard Farms, alongside Katherine Bio and her husband Peter A. Bio, the founder of Standard Farms. Both Goldrath and Mr. Bio are partners at a private cannabis investment firm called FocusGrowth Asset Management LP (FocusGrowth). 

The lawsuit alleges that the most telling fact that Altus’ WBE certification may be using Bio as a propare public comments from Goldrath that Altus’ funding and management will be supplied through management services and funding agreements with FocusGrowth, where both he and Mr. Bio are partners. 

Standard Farms’ Female Trouble

Mr. Bio and Mr. Goldrath, in their past lives at Standard Farms, have allegedly and unsuccessfully attempted to use a woman to game the application system to win more points. 

A former director of administrative operations for Standard Farms, Lisa Pabon, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in 2018 against the company. She alleged that Mr. Bio and Mr. Goldrath fired her for refusing to defraud New Jersey during the 2018 RFA process. They wanted her to agree to claim that she was the “Equal Opportunity and Director of Community Outreach” and “Chief Administrative Officer” at Altus on the application – positions she never held at a company she never worked for. 

“I wasn’t going to go to jail for lying,” she told the Inquirer in 2019.

In the same lawsuit, Lisa Pabon also alleged that Standard Farms “sold product with defective/leaky cartridges” that she believed were emptied and recycled instead of being destroyed as required by law.

Although returned, there was no record in the state’s seed-to-sale cannabis tracking system. She documented at least $15,000 worth of marijuana oil returned from patients and vendors. Instead of responding to her concerns, Standard Farms fired her and later told the court that she was terminated for being rude, incompetent, and difficult to work with. 

The case was dismissed pending private arbitration, so Green Market Report is unable to confirm the results of the arbitration. In addition to this lawsuit, Standard Farms had multiple allegations from whistleblowers lobbied against the company in 2019. 

According to the Inquirer, Renee Kelso, the former director of quality assurance at Standard Farms, quit her job after trying to prevent the company from using hydrogen peroxide mist spray to control mold and mildew – a practice explicitly banned in the states for cannabis. 

Another executive, Paul Karlovich, quit Standard Farms because he said the company “made him do things that he wasn’t comfortable with.” He alleged the company broke the law and brought in seeds and cutting illegally after the 30-day deadline and that the company had neither the tools to mitigate the airborne mildew dust in the greenhouses from the humid climate of the Poconos nor proper odor mitigation system. 

After the Inquirer published the whistleblower’s stories and complaints, TerraVida Holistic Centers, immediately removed Standard Farms products from its stores. 

Holistic NJ A Layer Deeper

Curio also suggests that there’s more woman propping for  WBE fraud at Holistic NJ, a shell for Holistic Industries and where Amy Singer is listed as its principal owner. However, NJCRC’s award letter was penned to Josh Genderson, the CEO and chairman of Holistic Industries, a multistate operator of cannabis companies in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and California.

This alone begs the question of Holistic NJ ownership, management and the day-to-operational control necessary to qualify for the WBE certification. In other words, if Singer is leading the company shouldn’t the correspondence be directed toward her?

Here’s where the relationships get tangled because Amy Singer, the purported owner of Holistic NJ, is married to Justin Singer, a partner at Feuerstein Kulick LLP, a cannabis boutique law firm that is named as the outside general counsel for Holistic Industries. Justin Singer is also a partner at FocusGrowth, along with Mr. Bio and Mr. Goldrath and two additional partners at Feuerstein Kulick.

From the Curio documents, it appears that FocusGrowth and Feuerstein Kulick principals are involved in both applications. This would disqualify both Altus and Holistic NJ Applications for violating the 2019 RFA rule that “significantly involved persons” can only be associated with one application. 

The lawsuit goes on the allege WBE fraud from CHM Consulting and misgivings about AP NJ Health’s application score based on prior predatory practices.

While it could be perceived as just sour grapes on Curio’s part, there is big money at stake here. 

Cannabis licenses are as valuable as they have ever been, especially in states where the number of them are capped. Plus, this wouldn’t be the first time a company was accused of using stand-ins to get a license. Harvest Health & Recreation paid $500,000 to settle a charge that it misrepresented a minority ownership in Ohio in 2020. The company said the company was minority owned while all the correspondence was going to the now former CEO Steve White. New Jersey may need to do more vetting when it comes to its social equity applicants.

This lawsuit is ongoing with​​ merits brief due on 4/18/2022.

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