In this article we’ll break it down for you drawing upon our experience in acquiring cannabis licenses in 2 states and participating in over 17 successful cannabis licenses. Over this time, we identified the 6 main barriers-to-entry. Of course, the primary concern for everyone is well –
How much does it actually cost to start a cannabis business?
We hope our experiences can help people take knowledgeable steps so they aren’t wasting their own, investors, or other people’s resources and time. We intend this to be a mini walk through of how much it costs to start a small facility 3000 square foot manufacturing facility in California. However, most of this is easily swappable/transmutable to all other legal/quasi-legal cannabis states.
If you want to just skip it all and see the full costs, just jump down to here.
So, let’s get started.
This amount is a combination of a LOT of steps which no one says anything about, mostly because everyone is trying to get ahead of everyone else, attorneys have an overwhelmingly new area to learn and navigate through so they charge a ton, and everyone puts a premium on “cannabis” because well – it’s the future holy money-making grail.
First Step – Property Identification
First and foremost is identifying property. Cannabis is vastly different from any other industry in the world. This is because unlike alcohol, pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, or just purely illegal drugs – cannabis is a quasi-legal product which is not legal under federal law.
Green Zone Properties
In California, the cities and states have all the power in deciding zoning for cannabis properties. Commonly known as “Green Zone” properties, these properties automatically 2x to 5x in value if they are in the legal “Green Zone” for a city. So your first hurdle is making sure that the property you selected is even the Green Zone.
A cannabis consultant could charge anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 or even equity depending on the length of time to go look for properties, check their zoning, then verify its location with the city. For us, it took us 16 cities and 43 different properties before we found one. Let’s just average it at $5,000 which is relatively cheap.
Leasing or Purchasing Green Zone Properties
As a result of the state vs federal law conflicts: No federal bank will give loans for cannabis properties.
That’s right. This means you have two choices as a cannabis business – (1) own a property outright with NO loans or (2) Rent from a landlord who owns a property outright with no bank loans. With a 2x to 5x in value for no reason other than it’s Green Zone, this means that your property costs shoot up vastly.
Let’s average the cost for purchase at $300.00/Sqft and leasing at $3.00/Sqft. With a 3000 sqft facility, we’re looking at $900,000 (purchase) or $9,000 a month (Lease).
2. – City Application Costs
The second opening cost of any cannabis application is the city or county fees. We break this down to two types of city fees: (1) Explicit Fees & (2) “Discretionary” Fees.
The explicit fees are what are publicly stated and the discretionary fees are while you are on the process – what a city a can charge you for any reason at any rate at their discretion.
The express fees usually range from at a minimum, $5,000 to up to $25,000+ in some outlier cities. Most will charge between $5,000 – $15,000 For example, the city of Long Beach charges $5,925.45 in fees for 1 owner. If you have multiple owners – they add $145.00 for each additional owner. In Los Angeles, each license requires $8,059 per activity type. We’ll average it at $15,000.
The discretionary fees are more interesting, in order to ensure that your premises meets the code, you’ll need to make sure your property is up to code from the local fire, police, architectural, and engineering departments – or however many departments the cities decides are necessary. Los Angeles Fire Department charges $918 + $216 for inspections exceeding 4 hours. However, they say nothing about any other departments. Basically, if a city likes you, they can charge you as little as a couple thousand and if they dislike you or think you have deep pockets – they can charge tens of thousands.
It’s also incredibly common for a city to point out an issue and ask you make a modification so that they can come back in for another inspection, or simply put down a random number of how many hours it will take them. Most cities will also charge you a security deposit, legal fees, consulting fees, and operating agreements with the city, etc. In all of our licenses, we have never paid less than $35,000 for these discretionary fees. As a result, we’ll average these out at $30,000 to be really nice and overly optimistic.
3. Premises Diagram
Almost all cities have a multiple-phase application process. At some point, you must have a premises diagram that meets all state and local cannabis codes, and specifically for cannabis. Unless you’re an cannabis architect yourself – you’ll need someone who can do this. Cannabis Architects charge a premium as they have to consider a lot of factors that most regular architects do not. Expect to pay about double to triple for cannabis architects.
Our cannabis architect states “While normally an architect would charge $1.50-5 for a commercial project – expect to pay closer to $8-$10 per square foot for a cannabis facility for a good cannabis architect.” Taking the low range of this, let’s tack on another $24,000 for premises diagrams.
4. Engineering Plans
Once you have this set up, now you’ll need to get all your electrical, plumbing, and other items in order. Also known as MEP, these engineers are crucial in ensuring you have sufficient utilities coming in to operate your cannabis business. The average cost of this is probably around $2.00 – $4.00 per square foot. Taking the low range of this, another $6,000 for MEP.
5. Interior Design
Now comes whether you want your place to look nice or not. This really is aggressive for retail but for other parts of the cannabis chain – the interior design really isn’t taken into account. So while normally it would be about $4.00 a square foot for retail, for our facilities only minimal costs were put into design costing about $1.00 square foot. We’ll tack on $3,000 for this.
6. Construction & Equipment
Now comes the REALLY expensive part, how much is your equipment and construction? A CO2 extraction machine goes from about $135,000 for small ones to $500,000 for larger ones. Then there is rotary evaporators, centrifuges, and much more depending on the needs of your engineer or scientist. Ultimately, the equipment probably averages around $250,000 for a small 3,000 sqft operation.
Then lets also tack on general contractor costs (unless you are one yourself). General contractors get paid by taking a percentage of the overall cost of the completed project. Some will charge a flat fee, but in most cases, a general contractor will charge between 10 and 20 percent of the total cost of the job. This includes the cost of all materials, permits and subcontractors. The average cost per square foot for a commercial cannabis property goes from about $80 to $200.00 per square foot or more with most settling around $100 per square foot. This includes all the material, subcontractors, and labor. So let’s tack on another $300,000.
7. State Licensing
Now that you’ve finished building out everything. Let’s assume that everything went PERFECT, and that you only need to do the final checkups. You can apply for your state licenses.
A 3,000 square foot facility with anticipated revenue of less than $500,000 – you are looking at a $1,000 application fee + $2,500 licensing fee. When you’ve received this and passed all inspection – now you can finally start operating. However, there’s a few more costs here that most people don’t account for.
8. Consultant/Legal Fees
Hiring a cannabis consultant or attorney is expensive. The average cannabis attorney rate is around $750/hour being able to charge a premium as it’s a really exclusive field right now. This is coming from one of our founders who also runs a cannabis law firm specialized in cannabis contracts.
For example, the city of Los Angeles requires public notices, community meetings, pre licensing inspection etc. This includes having someone stand in front of the public population of a city at city council hearings, meet and greets with city officials, negotiations and more.
If you want to have a specialized, knowledgeable cannabis attorney – expect easily about 50 – 150 hours of legal work. Lets take the mid area at about 100 hours.
Here’s a super fun one for everybody. If you are leasing property – keep in mind that while you are struggling – this doesn’t mean your landlord lets you off the hook. We’ve spoken to a lot of people about the pain they have during this time frame – some are hitting about 14 months of processing time with over $30,000/month in just rental fees.
Everything above takes a long time to complete. Let’s estimate a “short” time frame of 12 months * the rent = $108,000. Let’s also add in the security deposit which is usually 3x normal rates. $108,000+$27,000 = $135,000.
NON-REFUNDABLE AT ALL STAGES
Let’s compare the opening costs for you to start with us in making your own manufactured cannabis products versus the opening costs that everyone else has had to suffer.
So if you’re ready to enter the United States largest edibles market (now and in the future):
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