The discussion about the future of cannabis legalization is ongoing, to say the least. Recently, Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) held a two-day conference in early June to gather Marijuana government regulators, trade associations, and businesses. The Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) is a national nonpartisan organization of government cannabis regulators that provides policymakers and regulatory agencies with the resources to make informed decisions when considering whether and how to legalize and regulate cannabis.
Representatives from NCIA participated in the conference – NCIA Board Members Khurshid Khoja (Chair Emeritus) and Michael Cooper (Board Secretary), and we caught up with them in this blog interview to better understand the goals and outcomes of the event.
From a bird’s eye view, what was the overall goal of this conference?
MC: The conference was an opportunity for regulators from around the nation to hear directly from stakeholders on the current and future challenges that face these markets and different models of regulation to tackle them.
KK: I’ll add that our own goals, as the current Policy Co-chairs for NCIA, were to better understand the priorities of state and local cannabis regulators across the country, and anticipate future developments in cannabis policy early on, so we could take that back to the NCIA membership and the staff – especially Michelle Rutter Friberg, Mike Correia, and Maddy Grant from our amazing government relations team.
Let’s talk about who was invited to participate in these panel discussions. From cannabis industry associations to those who regulate cannabis, who else was there?
KK: Michael and I each spoke on a panel. The other speakers included reps from federal trade associations, lobbyists, vendors, and ancillary companies who were helping to underwrite the event (along with NCIA). Given that CANNRA is a non-profit that doesn’t receive any funding from their member jurisdictions, and has a single paid full-time staff member, I thought they were still able to obtain a fairly diverse and interesting set of speakers at the end of the day – including NCIA Board and Committee alums Ean Seeb, Steve DeAngelo, Amber Senter and David Vaillencourt (representing the Colorado Governor’s Office, LPP, Supernova Women and ASTM, respectively), as well as folks from Code for America, Americans for Safe Access, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association, U.S. Pharmacopeia, NIDA, the CDC, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, representatives of the pharmaceutical, hemp, tobacco and logistics industries, and public health officials.
Were there any organizations or sectors of the industry that were not in attendance, whether they weren’t invited or just didn’t participate, and why is it important to note the gaps of who was not represented?
MC: No licensed businesses were invited. Instead, organizations that represent industry members were invited. As a result, we felt it was crucial to inform these discussions with the perspective of the multitude of small and medium-sized businesses otherwise known as Main Street Cannabis that have built this industry and continue to serve as its engine.
KK: Sadly, we did not have an opportunity to hear from members of the Coalition of Cannabis Regulators of Color. I can’t speak to why that was, but it was unfortunate for us nonetheless. And while we had some public health officials there, I know that CANNRA Executive Director Dr. Schauer would have preferred to see more of them in attendance.
Across the spectrum of policy and regulations and legislative goals, what topics were covered in the panel discussions across the two-day conference?
KK: We covered a ton, given the time we had, including the federal political and policy landscape; interstate commerce; the impact of taxes on the success of the regulated market; social equity and social justice; preventing youth access; regulation of novel, intoxicating and hemp-based cannabinoids; the prospects for uniform state regulations; technological solutions to improve compliance and regulatory oversight; and delivery models.
What information or perspectives did NCIA bring to the panel discussions that were unique from other participants? What does NCIA represent that is different from the other voices at the event?
MC: There really are a wide variety of perspectives on how best to regulate this industry. We felt it was essential that NCIA give a voice to Main Street Cannabis, the small businesses that so many adult-use consumers and medical patients rely upon. We emphasized, for example, that these are often businesses that cannot simply operate in the red indefinitely, but provide essential diversity (in the background and life experience of operators as well as in product selection and choice). NCIA wants to make sure that the future of cannabis isn’t simply the McDonalds and Burger Kings of cannabis. There are times when consumers want that, but there are also times when they want something unique and different. And it’s crucial that policy not destroy the small and medium-sized, frequently social equity-owned, businesses that provide those choices.
What else was interesting to you about this gathering of minds? Were you surprised by anything, or was there anything you heard that you disagreed with?
MC: There are a ton of different perspectives and approaches to cannabis, and that’s no surprise to anyone who has followed these issues closely because the tensions are very clear in the policy debates that are ongoing.
As the voice for the industry, we sought to urge an approach grounded in reality. Americans want these products. That’s clear from the ballot box and public polling. The question should be about how to encourage Americans to purchase regulated, tested versions of these products.
KK: There was definitely stuff we didn’t agree with – some of it from folks that we otherwise largely agree with. For example, our good friend Steve Hawkins of the USCC shocked a few of us in the audience when he seemed to indicate some receptivity to re-scheduling cannabis on an interim basis, rather than moving to de-scheduling immediately. I think that while rescheduling may benefit scientific research and pharmaceutical development, it could ring the death knell for Main Street Cannabis businesses. NCIA has consistently advocated for de-scheduling rather than re-scheduling.
After two days of panels, did anything new come through these discussions, or were any accomplishments achieved?
KK: I think there’s a growing recognition that addressing social equity solely through preferential licensing and business ownership for the few isn’t enough and that the licensing agencies and regulators that execute social equity policies have a very limited (and often underfunded) arsenal to comprehensively redress the harm caused by federal, state and local governments prosecuting the war on drugs. In my remarks, I said it was time for us to start discussing additional forms of targeted reparation and had a number of regulators approach me afterward to continue the discussion. Candidly, I expected my remarks to fall on deaf ears. They didn’t. That was very encouraging.
MC: There was definite progress. At the end of the day, these cannabis regulators are working hard to try to get this right. But in such a new area, and with so many competing perspectives and voices, their job isn’t easy. We were heartened to see the level of engagement from regulators on these points, including follow-ups to get more information on some of the pain points we identified for small and equity businesses in the industry.
It was definitely rewarding to provide NCIA and our members’ perspectives in a forum like this, and we’re looking forward to continuing to further strengthen NCIA’s relationship with CANNRA and regulators around the country.