Cannacurio Podcast Episode 27 with Zach Gordon of Grassi CPA

In the latest episode of the Cannacurio Podcast from Cannabiz Media, my co-host, Amanda Guerrero, and I discuss 2020 cannabis license leaderboards as well as license growth in 2020. We also speak with Zach Gordon, Tax Senior Manager at Grassi CPAs, an accounting and professional services company with a long history supporting clients operating in and with the cannabis industry.

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Cannacurio Podcast Episode 27 Transcript

Narrator: This is the Canacurio podcast by Cannabiz Media, your source for cannabis and hemp license updates directly from the data vault. Don't forget to subscribe to the Cannabiz Media newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to stay informed of future episodes and data releases.

Amanda Guerrero: Welcome to the Canacurio podcast powered by Cannabiz Media. We're your hosts Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. This week on today's show, we are joined by Zach Gordon, a tax senior manager at Grassi CPAs. Zach and the Grassi team are an East Coast based and an accounting and professional services firm.

They just recently joined the Cannabiz Media platform and we are super excited to have them on as they have a special subscription that we'd love to share more with you guys about.

But as always, before we dive in with our guests, we are going to check in with Ed to see what he's got for us this week from the data vault, Ed.

Ed Keating: Hey Amanda. So right now, as we get into year-end, me and the team have been working on a variety of leaderboards. So we're working on manufacturing next, as we've just completed retailing and cultivation.

The cultivation, as we talk about just about every quarter, is heavily concentrated with licenses from California and Oklahoma. They control about 87% of the new licenses, I think, that have come out and probably 70% overall in the nation. So definitely continuing the leaderboard pole positions as we come into the end of the year.

Amanda Guerrero: And I have to just inquire, did Michigan make any appearances in this cultivation leader board?

Ed Keating: Yeah, they are right up there in the third spot. They've really been adding a lot of licenses across the value chain, because I think the last time we talked, we chatted about dispensaries and retailers and their rate of growth of adding those types of licenses was really steeper than all the other states. So I think we're going to continue to hear from them as we go into 2021 as well.

Amanda Guerrero: Yes. As many of our loyal listeners know, we have been closely tracking the growth within the California, Oklahoma and Michigan markets, and they have been absolutely at the top of our leaderboard in 2020 and I'm sure we're looking at the same for 2021.

As I mentioned, today, we are joined by Zach from Grassi CPAs. Zach, welcome to the show. We're so happy to have you.

Zach Gordon: Thanks so much for having me, very excited to be here.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, of course. Not to date ourselves on the podcast, but you just survived or are surviving the crazy winter storm that's hitting the East Coast right now, correct?

Zach Gordon: Yeah, that's right. I actually had to get the shovel and the salt out. So, who would have thought.

Amanda Guerrero: Oh my goodness. Well, we'll definitely focus our conversation today on what you guys are doing over at Grassi, but glad to have you on the show. Now with Grassi, they've been a pretty long standing firm, since 1980, within the accounting services field. When did you guys get into the cannabis industry? How did that happen?

Zach Gordon: That's an amazing question, and it's one of those things that I think across public accounting, similar conversations are being had. The firm has been in the cannabis space since about 2016 and the conversation started with, "You're kidding, right?"

One of the partners went into the managing partner's office and was like, "We're getting some bites, we're getting some questions and we have our own clients who were either investing or becoming more and more interested in the space. I think it's about time we got in." And of course, the first response was, "What are you crazy?" Obviously this being several years ago, the market wasn't quite what it was now.

As the market continued to evolve and our clients got more and more excited and we got more excited, it was just a natural fit. It goes without saying we had to do our research. So I was actually the founder and first chairperson of the New York State Society of CPAs Cannabis. Committee.

So it was pretty unique in getting all these professionals together, some who may not have been very experienced in this space, but wanted to learn more, and the few of us who did have that hands-on experience, we got a chance to have a bit of a sounding board. And that was really a great way to get, not only ourselves more interested into the industry and more exposure, but a lot of other CPAs to have that sounding board as well.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. And you've recently just joined the Grassi CPA firm, is that correct?

Zach Gordon: Exactly. I joined over the summer, so-

Amanda Guerrero: Congratulations.

Zach Gordon: Thank you. Thank you. It's certainly been quite a journey, but I am really excited to be here, all joking aside. The practice really is growing, pardon the pun, like a weed. I'm sorry, I had to. I had that in my back pocket, I had to use it.

Amanda Guerrero: I love it. I love it. The puns are endless in this industry.

Zach Gordon: Oh, they sure are, and they get more corny by the day, but that's all right.

Amanda Guerrero: Now, coming from a cannabis accounting focused background, especially with your previous work with the trade association, how do you think the MORE Act impacts to aid regulations and subsequently the clients that you have at Grassi?

Zach Gordon: That is a fantastic question and I would put a big asterisk in that it's based on what we know today, and as we know, any legislation having to do with cannabis is a moving target. At the federal level, it's even more so.

Theoretically, assuming the MORE Act passes in some semblance of its current form, there are some really big impacts. Now, we can't answer all those questions, only because we don't know for sure the how, the when, and those are all pretty important questions. But let's just say for the sake of conversation here, that cannabis as a whole is de-scheduled.

So it's currently a Schedule One drug that means that 280E applies, and specifically, that means that there're no deductions outside of cost of goods sold. I'll save the rest of the tax dissertation for another time, but again, just for the sake of this conversation, cost of goods sold is all you can really think about if you're a plant touching business.

Now, how does that affect our clients? In every way you could possibly imagine. And this is where having the right documentation, having the right professional guidance can really take you a long way. I would bet that this answer will change over the next few months, but if it were to pass, there are significant implications.

Ed Keating: So Zach, one question that I had in terms of clients, especially since the firm has been doing this for a while, is, are you working with both plant touching and ancillary clients? And if you do, how do their needs differ from the services that you provide to them?

Zach Gordon: That's a great question. We do have plant touching. I mean, we work with single state operators, multi-state operators, applicants and everybody in between. We also work with quite a few different ancillary service providers from the technology side, from infrastructure, from a few different sides. It's pretty interesting, and they are all wildly different in how they need to be serviced. When you look-

Ed Keating: And I-

Zach Gordon: I'm sorry, go ahead.

Ed Keating: No, go on finish. Finish.

Zach Gordon: Oh, I was just going to say that when you're looking at plant touching business, the documentation is key. Making sure that you understand how, as we mentioned, cost of goods sold, how that's being allocated, who you're servicing, how you're servicing, et cetera. It's just incredibly important. Not that it's less so if you're an ancillary service, it's just a little different.

Ed Keating: Right. And I remember when you were coming on board, Grassi, we were chatting and I asked you a bunch of questions then too, and one of the things I remember is that you were coming to the firm and the firm already had sort of this multi-state view already. It wasn't that you were just dealing, let's say with clients in New York state, but towns, if I remember, that you have broad coverage nationwide. Is that right?

Zach Gordon: Exactly. Now, the asterisk I would put there is we want to know the state. We want to know the market before we would get in.

Ed Keating: Sure. Sure. Sure, yeah.

Zach Gordon: So being educated is a big deal. Not just speaking for myself, but for other professionals within the firm, we take that education very seriously. It goes without saying that California's obviously the biggest market, and as much as anyone can wrap their heads around that beast, that is the compliance infrastructure for California, that's obviously a logical starting point.

And some of them are mature markets as well. We have our eyes there. But as new markets come online, you better believe, 12:01 on that day, we are noses to the books trying to understand that market.

Ed Keating: Absolutely. Now, as a guy who started working for essentially a Fortune 500 tax publisher out of college, I'm always intrigued-

Zach Gordon: To brag a little bit.

Ed Keating: ... by the regulation. So what regulations guide your work? Does FinCEN Bank Secrecy come in? What are you having to look at to help understand the cost of goods sold issues that you talked about and some of those other nuances that people who are new to this market just don't know what they don't know?

Zach Gordon: Well, that's a great way to frame it. Cannabis is unique in that, I don't know if there's another industry, where there's so many first time or relatively new owners and operators. And that brings up its own challenges, and to your point with that, the way you phrased that, they don't know what they don't know. So in that regard, and I think bringing up FinCEN is really interesting, because we do have to be familiar with pretty much every regulatory body under the sun.

And given that this is cannabis, given that it is federally illegal for all intents and purposes, we need to make sure that compliance is airtight, not only at the state level, but the federal level as well.

Ed Keating: And from a compliance suite standpoint of the tools and software that your clients have to use, I mean, are they able to embrace industry products like Work or ADP or QuickBooks? How do they make sure that they're tracking things the right way?

Zach Gordon: See, that's a loaded question, because going back to the issue of cannabis being an illegal industry, again for all intents and purposes, there are certain platforms which will, if they know that you're a cannabis business, they may not allow you to use their platform.

Now, that being said, there are great platforms out there. You mentioned Work, it's a platform tailored for the cannabis industry and that's fantastic. And that's very exciting, not only with platforms like Cannabiz, but some of the others that are out there being tailored for the industry and just seeing how far they've come over the last couple of years is really exciting from my seat.

Ed Keating: Awesome. Well, and one last sort of technology compliance question is, Cannabiz Media publishes reports on sort of what makes up the software stack in the cannabis space, what tools are license holders using, so I'm curious, do you or people in your firm have to become fluent or familiar with a lot of the ERP seed-to-sale and point of sale outputs? Does that factor into some of the work product that you have to do, if you're doing, let's say an audit or something like that?

Zach Gordon: It's not even a question and your timing for a question like that could not be better. Quite literally this morning, we were on a Zoom call with a client, we're going through an audit, well, we're preparing for this coming up audit season, and going through exactly, their POS systems and their inventory management software. That's exactly on the nose, and we have to know it.

There's no way we can conceivably go in as auditors, unless we know what the output looks like, unless we know exactly what we're getting and that they're in full compliance depending on the state market.

Amanda Guerrero: Well, so earlier in the conversation, Zach, you mentioned that it's really important for businesses to have documentation and to have the proper research tools available to them in order to explore new markets or to establish themselves there. I'm curious, as a new recent subscriber to the Cannabiz Media platform, how have you guys been able to integrate us into your process and what are some of the primary use cases that you foresee the team having?

Zach Gordon: Well between us, I wish we had gotten on the platform ages earlier, because it's been a great experience. And I genuinely mean that. Just first getting an understanding of who's in the market, in any given market, is incredibly important. You can't know how to properly service an industry, a region or anything more detailed than that unless you understand the market itself and Cannabiz's tools are fantastic. That really has been a difference maker.So we've brought in our marketing department, we mentioned the audit team, we brought them in, just to understand at not only a high level, but at a bit more of a detailed level, the who, the what, the how long, et cetera. It's an incredible tool.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. Thank you. We appreciate your kind words there. Bringing in the marketing and the auditing department, I mean, that's really a great way for your business to understand and get a snapshot of what's going on within the cannabis industry at real time, or within real time.

While we do give these updates about the data vault during our shows, we do have a team of 25 researchers that are working tirelessly to update these records, keep them and provide our subscribers with the best available information, not just from a sales and marketing standpoint, but also from a market research standpoint.

Now, I'm assuming that you've had some time to look through the platform and work through it, just on first glance, do you have any tips or tricks or ways that you're utilizing the platform that you'd like to share?

Zach Gordon: Absolutely. So there is a great tutorial and the customer service is fantastic. So I do tip my hat for that, and this is not a shameless plug, I really do mean it. It's been a great experience.

As far as tips or tricks, play around a little bit, make sure that you know by region, by license, try to play with it a little bit. Try to find that one market that you think you know and see what the output is. It's no better way to learn than that.

Ed Keating: Yeah, I would concur and I want to say when Zach and I met a long time ago at trade shows, you really did get a chance to understand the product and actually send people to our booth. You're like, "You've got to go look at that." So we appreciate the fact that you've come on board as a customer and brought Grassi along with you.

I wanted to zip back to some of the markets. So we've got about five new markets or expanded markets coming on board. Obviously you're going to be all over the proposed regulations, sort of seeing what they mean, any ones in particular, like New Jersey is not very far away, is that the one that you're, you're really trying to keep an eye on? Or as opposed to a place like Arizona, where they're going to give out fractionally more licenses and probably mostly to existing license holders. Any picks that you're making in terms of where you really need to focus first?

Zach Gordon: Well, either way, it's really exciting to know that there are five new markets coming online. That's just, it's frankly, very good for business on that front and given the economic firepower of New Jersey, given geographically where it is, it's just from a convenience factor on the geographical side, of course, that's going to be very interesting.

We've already gotten quite a few pings to write research and start putting together financial models, to start thinking about what potential write-ups could look like for the applications as they come out. I would say specifically for New Jersey, the excitement is palpable and really what that means is I'm probably never sleeping again.

Ed Keating: Yeah, I bet. I mean, it's been interesting just to hear some of the early insights that people have. It may just be guesses, maybe not insight, but from what I've seen in New Jersey, it looks like they're going to cap cultivation at about 36 licenses, but no cap on dispensaries, retailers, which is pretty interesting.

Then I've also heard that Mississippi may be taking a page out of the Oklahoma playbook and basically let the market decide, let thousands of licenses fly. Have you heard anything? And are there markets that are more interesting to you because of how they issue licenses like a controlled state with limited licenses versus a Wild Wild West, like in Oklahoma or perhaps in Mississippi?

Zach Gordon: Well, that's a loaded question because they're interesting for different reasons. So we did take a look at Oklahoma back when it really kicked online. It was, to your point with the Wild Wild West comment, I agree with that.

This is oversimplification, but anybody who wanted a license got a license. And unfortunately what happens is that does have the effect of almost devaluing those individual licenses. You do have concerns over who the operators are, and I don't mean that from a background standpoint, I mean that more from the experiential standpoint, where there is statistically a greater probability of them failing, and that's concerning.

Anytime you get into a limited license market though, supply and demand, that scarcity brings some heavy economic impact. That's always interesting and intriguing to be a part of. But I think, not to sit on the fence here, but they're interesting for different reasons, if that makes sense.

Ed Keating: No, that's a great point. I think the MSO discussion is a key one, because we've talked a lot about them on the pod in the past. And the way I look at it is they have a lot of expertise with brands, with people and operations across state lines. They can't move the product across state lines, but they can move a lot of other things. They also have a lot more at risk and a lot to lose, so their likelihood for compliance is super high, so they need somebody like a Grassi or one of your competitors to make sure that they are crossing every T, dotting every I, and then proofing it three times before they submit it.

So, yeah, it would make sense that those are the markets that, I would think would be more interesting because you can get a lot more done working with one big client then trying to chase around 60 small ones.

Zach Gordon: Exactly. And anytime you start talking about a market like New Jersey, for example, where there's the number of zeros involved in those checks, there's just naturally a level of interest that comes with it.

Amanda Guerrero: Well, Zach, thank you so much for joining us on today's show. It really has been a pleasure having you and especially given the long time connection that you've had with Ed and sending us leads at shows, and just being a longtime fan of the team, we're happy to have you as a subscriber and we're super excited to continue working with you into the new year.

Zach Gordon: I definitely appreciate the sentiment and I return it. I've seen the evolution of the platform and it's really exciting. I'm very excited to see where you guys keep going and happy to be a user as well.

Ed Keating: Awesome. Thanks. Happy New Year.

Zach Gordon: You as well.

Amanda Guerrero: All right, Ed, so let's take a look into our crystal ball here for the end of 2020 going into 2021, what can we look forward to from the data vault?

Ed Keating: We're really looking at year-end numbers to see what the growth looked like. Trying to compare what's happened over the last 12 months. We saw, for example, Florida added a whole bunch of stores. I think they're up to almost 300 dispensaries now-

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, I saw that.

Ed Keating: ... even though that's only coming from a few handfuls of true license holders. Whereas Oklahoma has just continued to add store after store after store. So just letting listeners to the pod know to look for a year-end wrap up coming in the next few weeks where we try and parse through all the numbers, all the licenses, and what has happened during the course of 2020.

Amanda Guerrero: Awesome. Well, it's been a true pleasure working with you on the show. I know we've got a couple more lined up for the rest of the month, but for us here in 2020, it has been a pleasure, Ed. Thank you.

Ed Keating: Absolutely.

Amanda Guerrero: All right. Well, everyone that wraps up our show today. Thank you so much for joining us and tuning in. This is the Canacurio podcast and we are your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. Stay tuned for more updates from the date of vault.

Narrator: Thanks for listening to the Cannacurio podcast by Cannabiz Media. Stay up to date with the latest episodes of the podcast and get alerts on the latest licensing activity in the United States and Canada, as well as exclusive industry insights, by signing up for the Cannabiz Media licensing newsletter at

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