In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, U.S. and Canadian cannabis companies have a unique opportunity to aid those in need. Not only are their cannabis products increasingly being deemed essential by governments—but they also have the facilities, personnel and protocols already in place to fill the desperate need for medical supplies.
These three companies are using those advantages to help their communities.
Aloha Green Apothecary
In Hawaii, Aloha Green Apothecary is producing hand sanitizer for its employees and patients, with plans to ramp up production as much as possible to donate hand sanitizer to other businesses and organizations in the state.
“We’re just trying our best to meet our patients’ needs and follow the law with all the changes in law that the government is laying down,” Tai Cheng, a spokesperson for Aloha Green Apothecary, told Cannabis Business Times.
The vertically integrated company, located in Oahu, has been deemed essential after all non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down. And since the outbreak, sales have increased.
Aloha Green Apothecary has always maintained strict security and sanitation protocols, but the company has implemented additional measures as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hand sanitizer has always been available near the entrance and exit of the dispensary, Cheng said, but the team placed hand sanitizer at every point-of-sale station amid coronavirus concerns, which meant the company needed a larger supply. As local stores started selling out, Aloha Green Apothecary tried to buy hand sanitizer from its wholesalers and distributors, but they, too, were sold out.
The Aloha Green Apothecary team then started hearing reports from patients that they were lining up outside big box stores early in the morning to purchase hand sanitizer, and that stores were implementing purchase limits. That’s when the company decided to make hand sanitizer and provide it to patients for free.
“We’re sitting on a lot of ethanol and other alcohols because of the extraction process,” Cheng said. “We had a lot of ethanol available in our lab, and the scientists in the lab said it’s not too difficult to make hand sanitizer. We just have to make sure it meets at least 60% alcohol content to be effective, according to the [World Health Organization]. We already make topicals … [and] a bunch of [other products] that are similar. We just don’t make a cleanser, but we thought, why not? We’ll give it a try so we can at least stock up our own retail dispensaries with sanitizer, as well as our office.”
Cheng said the company stopped making its topicals altogether to dedicate its mixing system, worktables and filling machines to hand sanitizer production.
“We have a lot [of ethanol], but of course all these alcohols are in high demand as supply chains are disrupted because of the coronavirus,” Cheng said. “We have no risk of running out with just our patients, but we have received inquiries from the state government, local convenience store chains, and other offices and businesses to supply them with sanitizer, just because they’re running out, as well. So, we’re going to try our best to maintain our ability to give sanitizer away for free to our current patients, and we’re going to try to make [a] larger volume [of] sanitizer to give away to some of those offices and companies so they can maintain some safety for their employees.”
Similarly, CannaCraft in Santa Rosa, Calif., found itself in dire need of hand sanitizer for its own employees and to ensure safety during retail deliveries.
After cannabis companies in California were deemed essential, CannaCraft started implementing the same types of extra sanitation measures, including splitting shifts, work-from-home policies where possible, as well as extreme sanitation of “any doorknob, faucet handle or coffee maker or phone, printer—anything more than one person was touching,” Tiffany Devitt, CannaCraft’s President of Wellness, said.
The company also wanted to make sure sanitation extended beyond the facility and into dispensaries, not only for deliveries but also for dispensary staff and consumer access. Hand sanitizer immediately came to mind.
Like Aloha Green Apothecary, CannaCraft’s team already procures ethanol that they use for product manufacturing at their 40,000-square-foot facility. Similarly, because they produce topicals, they had other valuable items on-hand already, like aloe, and thousands of pump containers, which coincidentally were leftover from the state’s “pre-regulatory era,” Devitt said. “We had initially used them for our topicals, but they weren’t child resistant, so we discontinued that packaging … That was sort of a delightful consequence of regulation.”
Plus, being so highly regulated, their facility was well-equipped for the task. They’re frequently inspected by
the California Department of Public Health and the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. Sometimes those inspections last up to seven hours. Having well-documented procedures and training is “second nature” to CannaCraft, Devitt said.
CannaCraft pulled its R&D team off its current projects and tasked them with formulating and filling hand sanitizer under the company’s Care by Design brand. Devitt said having PhDs and regulatory liaisons on staff helped this process go smoothly. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also loosened up its regulatory guidelines to make it easier for people to respond in real-time to the crisis, she adds, so the team was able to produce a formula and quickly ensure it complied with FDA guidelines.
The first batch of hand sanitizer CannaCraft produced went home with employees for their families. The second batch is being shipped out directly to dispensary customers with their orders. The company has also gotten several requests from local nonprofits, especially those who work with the elderly population, and so they’ll work to distribute those as they’re able. All the hand sanitizer produced by CannaCraft will be donated.
Interestingly, the manufacturing of the hand sanitizer did not significantly impact production of CannaCraft’s cannabis products, Devitt said, adding, “We have about 150 different products, so tossing one more product in did not ruffle them in the least.”
Keirton, Inc. (Twister Trimmer)
Even companies in the cannabis supply chain that aren’t plant-touching are offering up ways to be of service during the pandemic.
Product engineering and idea development company Keirton, Inc., which produces Twister Trimmer cannabis trimming equipment and has facilities in Surrey, British Columbia and Ferndale, Wash., has opened up a call to its supply chain to offer networking, as well as its facilities, to assist in the making of ventilators.
Last week, Keirton, Inc. CEO Jay Evans posted to LinkedIn making the announcement:
“During these difficult times, I believe it’s incredibly important for people to pull together to make a difference. It’s been said that ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention.’ At Keirton, innovation has been in our DNA since day one. We have thirteen years of industry expertise in creating precision electromechanical machines used in Health Canada regulated GMP facilities across our country and EU-GMP facilities across Europe. Today, we are in a good position to temporarily pivot on our core range of products and assist in the much needed development of medical ventilators.”
Soon after, comments began pouring in from consultants, manufacturing companies and horticulture companies, offering ideas and suggestions to help get the idea rolling. Evans told Cannabis Business Times in an interview that the company has now been in touch with the Canadian federal government and added to a list of supporters; has been supporting some companies in the design phase of ventilators; and is open to using their production space in B.C. for their manufacture if that bandwidth is needed.
“We realized we have the expertise to design something quite quickly, especially if the government would open source the design for us,” Evans told Cannabis Business Times in an interview. “We could design it, produce it and start manufacturing quite fast.”
Keirton, Inc. has PhDs, chemists and engineers on staff, access to a clean room, and vendors from around the globe, Evans said, but their biggest advantage, he says, is their ability to adapt in these unprecedented times. “We’re very nimble. We’re not a huge company so we’re able to maneuver quickly,” he said.
In the meantime, demand has also shot up for its trimming equipment as cannabis companies are trying to keep up with production. “One of the things we can help companies with is bringing some of our solutions to them, and not replacing their people, but augmenting the people they have in making them more productive and allowing them to use those people in more high-value areas of business,” Evans said.
Evans added that he doesn’t anticipate the balance between ventilator assistance and the current manufacturing of its trimming equipment will be an issue, given the company has inventory in place and extra capacity if necessary. He added that potential layoffs in other sectors may help provide opportunities for support if the extra capacity is needed.
“It’s important for us, cannabis being deemed an essential service that the industry keeps supplying quality, safe cannabis and we can help anyone out there who needs that assistance, either with our equipment or our advice,” Evans said. “Anywhere we can help, we’d love to help.”