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Why You Shouldn’t Write Your Own Dispensary SOPs

abstract graphic image of man writing cannabis SOPs on a laptop

No doubt dispensary owners are a resourceful, independent, and hardworking bunch. A lot of owners, we’ve found, tend to want to do everything in regards to opening and running their dispensary themselves.

We’re not ones to try to tell entrepreneurs that they can’t do something, anymore than we’d want to go out for a light jog around a bullring in a Santa suit; and in fact that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re suggesting that you shouldn’t write your own dispensary standard operating procedures (SOPs) because it’s not in your best interest. Here are some reasons why.

First things first – what are dispensary SOPs again?

If you already know what SOPs are, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

SOPs are a common resource in businesses that are efficiently and professionally-run, successful, and profitable.

A process or procedure is something you do on a somewhat frequent or predictable basis in a business (the main exception being emergency procedures, which aren’t frequent or predictable but are still useful to know what to do in the event of a problem). An SOP is a written, step-by-step description of how to complete such a process.

A simplified example of an SOP for destroying or disposing cannabis might be:

  1. Confirm in your system that you are disposing of the right cannabis product
  2. Dispose of the cannabis product in such a way that it can not be accessed, cannot be consumed, and is labeled as hazardous
  3. Log the disposal of the cannabis product in your system

A real SOP would be a lot clearer and more specific, but you get the idea.

As you might expect from that example, a single dispensary might have dozens or even hundreds of SOPs on processes and procedures like:

  • Opening and closing the store
  • Point of sale transactions
  • Cash management
  • Deliveries
  • HR (interviewing, hiring, evaluations, and terminations)
  • Safety and security

Why you shouldn’t write your own dispensary SOPs

Your time is too valuable

There are a million things you have to worry about when getting your license and opening a dispensary. Not simple things, either. Thinking about and writing comprehensive business and financial plans, recruiting and hiring your team, establishing relationships with distributors and brands, developing your branding and marketing (logos, websites, signage, and more).

It’s way too much work for a single person or even a small group of people.

In many cases, you’re working against the clock, too. Some regulators only give you a couple months to put together an application that can run into the hundreds of pages. Aside from that, if you’re in a new recreational cannabis market, you also want to launch your dispensary as soon as possible and establish a loyal customer base before too many other stores open up.

Why would you want to spend your valuable time, energy, and brain cells on writing SOPs? There are so many other areas of your business where you can use your creativity and business smarts. Do you really want to spend time writing SOPs about filling a cash register or cleaning up POS areas at the end of a day – or do you want to spend it thinking about how you’re going to launch and build the next Cookies or MSO?

The cannabis industry is unique

It can be pretty tough to write SOPs for the cannabis industry if you don’t have a lot of experience in it. A lot of things about cannabis retail are different from other types of retail: the extensive security and reporting requirements (just about everything you do in a licensed dispensary has at least one regulation that applies to it), the unique software, cash-only and non-traditional payment processes, all the rules surrounding how to store, handle, and package your product inventory, etc.

These aren’t things you can learn just by visiting dispensaries, either, since a lot of the most important and complicated processes occur out-of-sight in the back area of the store, or before and after visitors are allowed into the store.

And even if you do have cannabis retail experience, it can still be tough because it varies from state to state and city to city due to regulations and cultural differences.

In California for example, you’ll need SOPs for security guards since guards are required there, but in other states they’re not. And in a state like Mississippi, for example, where more people are first-time users, you would need more SOPs on patient education about things like strains and proper usage, or even in assisting patients in getting their medical cards in the first place.

So does that mean it’s time to find an expensive cannabis consultant, and work with them to write dozens of SOPs from scratch? No, not really, and we’ll explain why in the next section.

The work has already been done for you

Services like Forte SOPs already have the SOPs you need, at a price you can afford. So even if you have the time or the expertise, it still doesn’t really make sense to write your own SOPs from scratch.

Our CEO once described Forte SOPs as the operating system of cannabis businesses, and it’s a pretty spot-on analogy. If you’re starting a business, one of the things you don’t do is go out and start developing your own computer operating system for your company PCs – you just buy Windows or Mac like a normal person. Some things just make sense to buy rather than develop in-house, and SOPs are one of them.

And like an operating system, using Forte SOPs doesn’t mean you’re condemning your dispensary into being a boring, artificial, cookie-cutter shop that’s just like every other dispensary – anymore than the fact that 90% of businesses use Windows means that 90% of businesses are exactly the same. Forte SOPs takes care of your basic fundamentals and critical processes, all the things that are the same for most businesses – inventory counts, cash management, etc. It frees you up to build a truly unique and successful business on top of that – through areas like your people, your culture, your product selection, and your branding – just like how every version of Windows is pretty much the same, but you can install any application on it and do pretty much whatever you put your mind to on it.

Why risk it?

Cannabis SOPs aren’t something you want to do by trial-and-error. You don’t want to be guessing. If your SOPs aren’t compliant, correct, and comprehensive, you can run into problems like:

  • Getting a lower application score and missing out on a limited number of licenses
  • Having your application rejected, resulting in significant delays (civil servants aren’t exactly known for their speedy service, especially if you’ve already wasted their time with a deficient application)
  • Failing your inspections, or getting fined or having your license suspended or rescinded for failing to follow regulations

Like I mentioned earlier, pretty much every process and procedure in a dispensary has at least one regulation (and more often several) that applies to it. It’s easy to overlook a detail here and there, especially if you’re new to cannabis and compliance and writing SOPs isn’t your fulltime job. And another issue is, since these procedures can be repeated hundreds of times every day, you can rack up not just one but thousands and thousands of compliance violations before you know it, if you’re already operational.

For example, maybe you make an error in your SOP on the checkout process, and you end up submitting incorrect or incomplete data to your state track-and-trace system. Pretty soon you’ll have thousands of noncompliant transactions on your systems. Your regulator may or may not be lenient with you when it comes to punishment or remediation. And aside from that, you’re now going to have to spend maybe your next week fixing and reconciling your sales data, all because of a single missed line in a single SOP. Ouch!

There’s also the safety and security of your team, customers, and patients to consider. You want to make sure you have clear and effective SOPs for product handling and recalls. You want your employees to feel confident that they know exactly what to do in the event of emergency. In general, working in a dispensary can be stressful. SOPs help to take some of the uncertainty out of the job, and let employees know exactly what’s expected of them.

Where Forte SOPs comes in

If you’re familiar with the term Software as a Service (SaaS), Forte SOPs is basically cannabis dispensary SOPs as a service (CDSOPaaS?…ok, we’re not exactly rushing to trademark that one). For a relatively low cost per month, you get access to a comprehensive library of dispensary SOPs (on transactions, delivery, inventory management, etc.), which we can customize down the level of city regulations for you. These SOPs can help you complete your application, get your license, and run and scale your business more efficiently.

All SOPs have been written and reviewed by our team of cannabis retail experts, who have been licensing, setting up, managing, and scaling cannabis retailers throughout North America for years now, for brands like Tokyo Smoke, Bullrider, Everest Cannabis, and Superette. Our team has worked at the ground level as budtenders, store managers, and district managers, so we know what works in practice as well as on paper.

You access your SOPs from your own private, secure, custom-branded, online Microsoft SharePoint portal – no need to set up your own secure Google Drives or DropBoxes, or something similar. Here the SOPs are organized by areas of operations or roles. You can add users and assign them access based on their position – for example, a budtender might get access to POS SOPs only, a buyer or procurement manager would have access to purchasing and transportation SOPs but not POS, a manager would have access to everything but not have the ability to edit any of the SOPs, etc.

The platform itself is under the protection of Microsoft’s gazillion-dollar cybersecurity infrastructure.

Also, we will automatically update your SOPs for you whenever your regulations change, so you don’t have to worry so much about keeping up with new laws and rules.

In addition to SOPs, the platform also includes useful forms and tools, including job descriptions, employee evaluation forms, expense report forms, float count tools, supply checklists, and more. We’re also adding new resources and features to the platform on a regular basis.

Bottom line, Forte SOPs can save you a ton of work, help you get started quicker, and help you maintain compliance and efficiency in the long run.

We know it’s a lot to take in at first, so if you have any questions or want to actually SEE in the platform in action, just schedule a quick demo with us when you get a chance.

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