Commmittee Blog: NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Offers Critiques and Recommendations for Illinois Social Equity Dispensary Licensing Process

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by NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

We are NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC), comprising experienced professionals representing a diverse range of backgrounds. In response to the early results of the Illinois Adult Use Dispensary application process, and with the interest of supporting Illinois’ Social Equity efforts, we felt compelled to reach out and offer our analysis and recommendations.

While the creation of the Social Equity Program in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations (“IDFPR”) implementation of the licensing scheme was well-meaning and intentioned, the recent litany of lawsuits and outcry from advocacy groups following Illinois’ inaugural issuance of cannabis licenses indicates heavy criticism. As demonstrated thus far, the Social Equity Program appears limited in its ability to capture a sufficient representation of persons most harmed by the War on Drugs in Illinois in business licensure and ownership, or to generate the opportunities for restorative justice and building generational wealth for such persons as hoped. 

Our intention with this letter is to state our express desire to lend the expertise and resources of NCIA’s DEIC to support Illinois legislators in crafting Illinois’ licensing and regulatory systems in a manner that reflects the Social Equity Program’s laudable mission of reducing barriers to cannabis business ownership, and establishing a legal cannabis industry that is equitable and accessible to those most harmed by the disparate enforcement of drug-related laws in Illinois.  Furthermore, we hope to lend support to local organizations building toward that same goal, and to form a coalition as we all strive to rectify the harmful effects of prohibition and the War on Drugs.

At this time, and pending further collaboration with local officials, NCIA’s DEIC makes the following recommendations for your consideration.  For further understanding of the analysis supporting these recommendations, please see the attached report.

For IDFPR to move forward with license scoring and issuance as soon as possible, we suggest the following:

  • Removing the required possession of premises and overhead to hold on to property (not required of dispensary applications and may bankrupt existing applicants awaiting results)
  • Ensuring oversight of KPMG (the 3rd-party firm hired by the State of Illinois to score the applications) by persons of color and social equity representatives
  • Allowing for a documented appeals process internally with KPMG results before issuing them to all applicants
  • Scrutinizing Operating Agreements in the rubric and gradient to ascertain and avoid predatory or straw-man agreements

Moving forward, reasonable transparency would include knowing what the makeup and process was for KPMG in making their first evaluations, and what the process will look like for the re-scoring to avoid conflicts of interest. Specifically, IDFPR can ensure transparency by making the following information public: 

  • Evaluation Rubric
  • Composition of the Reviewers
  • Scoring Process and Determination of Grading
  • Frequency of KPMG Meetings
  • KPMG Public Relations Contact
  • Timeline of Events During the Scoring Process
  • Lessons Learned and Plan for Improvement on Future Scoring Rounds 

For future rounds of applications, we offer these recommendations:

  • Pre-qualifying social equity applicants for state funding to ensure economic empowerment in the application process
  • Providing a path forward for those who are not (yet) qualified to operate a cannabis business, but are qualified as social equity applicants
  • Allowing for 100% Social Equity Applicant owned businesses to qualify for cannabis experience points without partnering with a multi-state operator (“MSO”)
  • Issuing delivery licenses for social equity operators 

We also express our support for the recommendations made by the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois’ Minority Access Committee, in their October 5, 2020, letter to Governor Pritzker. (see here)

Finally, we appreciate the efforts taken by Governor Pritzker, the Illinois legislature, and IDFPR thus far to address disparities in the application process and commend Governor Pritzker for taking leadership on this important issue. Allowing this first generation of applicants to address deficiencies in their applications, as it was originally intended to allow them to do, offers another opportunity to enter the lottery system, which we recognize and appreciate. 

Additionally, the commission of a disparity study is commendable and should prove helpful in understanding what went wrong and how to improve. If anything, we hope our expertise and professional experience will assist in this process and in the effort to improve upon the mistakes of the past to achieve a more diverse, inclusive, and socially equitable future. 

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please let us know if we can assist in any way. 

Sincerely,

The National Cannabis Industry Association
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

The full letter and analysis can be found here.

Member Blog: Creating a Diverse, Inclusive, and Sustainable Cannabis Industry

By Rebecca Lee Katz, President, Pakaloh LLC

This year, a national outcry against police violence and the impact of COVID-19 on Black and brown communities initiated a reckoning with the legacies of oppression and injustice in the U.S. Along with recognizing our institutionalized and internalized racism, we have started to come to terms with our economic inequality now that the income gap is worse than it has been in 50 years and three families alone control more wealth than 50% of Americans.

As with the rest of the country, the cannabis industry is lived differently based on the intersectionalities of race, class, gender, orientation, (dis)ability, and veteran status. For example, already wealthy, white, male individuals have amassed fortunes in cannabis with roughly 74% of U.S. cannabis businesses owned by men and 81% by whites, according to a 2017 Marijuana Business Daily survey.

After most states designated cannabis “essential” during COVID-19, private individuals, family funds, and pension funds plowed $2.6 billion into corporate cannabis, and multi-state operators posted record sales in the hundreds of millions. Earlier in September, the second cannabis exchange-traded fund (ETF) was announced which involves an investment portfolio of multi-state operators, REITs, and CBD companies. In contrast, Black and brown communities face mass incarceration for that same plant whereby African Americans are four times more likely nationally to be arrested for cannabis offenses than whites, while in states such as Kentucky and Montana, almost 10 times more likely, cited by a 2020 ACLU report.

These economic barriers to entry entrench the lack of representation in cannabis. For most entrepreneurs, the main obstacle to starting a cannabis business is the lack of access to traditional banking. It takes at least $300,000 to open a cannabis retail store, and up to millions of dollars for other cannabis enterprises, according to the 2019 Marijuana Business Factbook. Without traditional banking, most professionals finance their businesses through family wealth or personal contacts – 84% of U.S. cannabis companies are self-funded by founders, and 22% capture additional funding through a Family and Friends Round, cited by that same report. In this system, minority entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage. U.S. median household net worth ranges from $171,000 for white families to $17,600 for African Americans, $20,700 for Latinx, and $64,800 for “Other,” based on a 2016 Federal Reserve Board survey. 

In addition to funding challenges, cannabis entrepreneurs must navigate onerous state and local regulations to obtain and maintain licensing. Some states have launched Social Equity Programs to help communities historically targeted by the criminalization of cannabis to now participate in the profits of legalization. However, even Illinois’s Social Equity Program, which is considered the gold standard, awarded only 21 out of its total 75 retail social equity licenses, leaving unclaimed 54 licenses that could have transformed the applicants’ economic circumstances. The 21 finalists were taken from a total pool of 1,667 applicants, which equates to only 1.3%. Low success rates stifle market entry and ensure that corporate, multi-state operators continue to saturate the cannabis space.

Beyond media proclamations, we must actualize an inclusive cannabis industry that reflects and celebrates the rich diversity of our community and provides equal opportunities to all professionals throughout the growth cycles of the market. We must operationalize sustainable businesses that produce unionized jobs and foster generational wealth. To do so, we must not only promote our own professional aspirations, but we must champion our friends’ and colleagues’ pathways into and up the cannabis industry.

While federal legalization remains the ultimate goal, local policies that would articulate a diverse, inclusive, sustainable cannabis industry must include explicitly legalized access to banking and finance, an overhaul of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and social equity programs that encourage market activity. Until then, we must collectivize our professional resources and knowledge to build a true business community that empowers each of us to achieve our cannabis ambitions. 


Rebecca Lee Katz is an attorney at an international law firm and President of Pakaloh LLC, the free business resource for an inclusive cannabis, CBD, and hemp industry. Pakaloh offers three types of membership which are all free, and members may select as many as they choose.  Membership is available to 1) “Individuals”, including new and established entrepreneurs and professionals, 2) “Providers of Products”, or plant-touching businesses, and 3) “Providers of Services”, including ancillary services.

A WOC-owned company, Pakaloh provides its members with a comprehensive suite of services, starting with free information and discounts at financial institutions like banks, lenders, and payment processors that work in cannabis. Pakaloh also features free Business Tutorials that cover a range of cannabis topics from accounting to agriculture. These are informative, introductory online videos submitted by members that allow them to reach an audience of potential clients who may need to hire their services. Additionally, members may post and search for job opportunities.

Partner companies also offer discounts for members to use on individual and bulk orders. Members network on the site by accessing directories and sending messages directly to each other. Lastly, Pakaloh curates information on professional and activist organizations and events. Pakaloh is pledged to every community, and comes from pakalolo, an embrace of generations of the founder’s family in Hawai’i. Pakaloh holds true that no matter your roots, each of us aspires toward something greater than ourselves, be it our family, our nation, our cannabis movement.   

Webinar Recording: NCIA Committee Insights – What’s Going On With Social Equity In Illinois?

In case you missed it, watch the recording of this webinar from Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

NCIA’s #IndustryEssentials webinars are our weekly educational series featuring a variety of programs allowing us to provide you timely, engaging and essential education when & where you need it most. The NCIA Committee Insights series showcases content produced in partnership with one of our 15 member-led committees.

? What has taken Illinois so long to announce its first round of Social Equity license winners?
? When Illinois legalized Adult Use on January 1st of this year, it announced itself as a national leader in the fight for Social Equity.
? Is it making the impact it set out to in communities Disproportionately Impacted by the War on Drugs?

Find out directly from stakeholders in Illinois how the program has or hasn’t been working. How will the failings and successes in Illinois thus far impact other Social Equity programs around the nation?

Members of NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and Special Guests from the Chicago Community spoke on the subject, including:

⭐️ Tahir Johnson, Business Development Manager, National Cannabis Industry Association (Moderator)
⭐️ Christine de la Rosa, CEO & National Co-Founder, The People’s Dispensary
⭐️ Mike Lomuto, Co-Founder, Boost
⭐️ Mark Slaugh, Founder, iComply
⭐️ Rev. Anibal Vega, Social Equity Partner, The People Dispensary Chicago
⭐️ Ron Holmes, Co-Founder, Majority-Minority Group
⭐️ Kay Villamin, Co-founder & Creative Marketing Director, Hush Chicago
⭐️ Michael Malcolm, Founder & Cannabis Consultant, WTF Media; Social Equity Applicant – Chicago

Member Blog: Drug Testing In Legal States – Corporate Policy vs. State Law

by Samantha Vanegas, VP of Operations, ath Power Consulting

Currently, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 11 others have given the green light to marijuana’s recreational use; however, the federal government still classifies any use of marijuana as illegal. This disparity creates a rift when employers go to test new employees for drugs. 

Workplace drug testing began in the 1980s as part of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” campaign. At that time, employers wanted to ensure their workers were fit to do the job at hand. Since marijuana has become legalized in many states, employers in these states are unsure of new drug testing protocols; so are the states and legal systems themselves. 

The resulting situation is a Catch-22. 

Without testing, there would be more applicants for any given job and a larger pool of prospective workers. Therefore, employers would potentially get the strongest candidates. However, with testing, employers can assure they get drug-free employees who will be safe on the job. 

But if marijuana is legal in some places and not others, who gets to decide where to draw the line? 

Safety on the Job

Safety on any job is paramount, which requires workers who are alert and capable of completing the intricacies of the job. 

According to Business News Daily, “The problem for employers is that impairment, because of marijuana, is usually much more difficult to detect and test for than alcohol. Unlike alcohol, it is very difficult for employers to determine if a positive drug test for marijuana is the result of drug usage during work or on non-work hours, so it is logistically simpler to just have an outright ban.” 

Making the issue cut and dry is much easier on employers compared to making case-by-case decisions. 

Depending on the business, marijuana testing is essential. Because of inherent safety concerns, new employees in the transportation, construction, and manufacturing industries definitely need to be tested. People operating heavy machinery should clearly not be under the influence of marijuana. Truck drivers, bus drivers, and train operators still will be tested for marijuana under the U.S. Department of Transportation laws. 

Additionally, any companies that accept federal money or hold contracts with the federal government will have to maintain drug testing protocols. In other business sectors, the line is not clear, which calls the legality of testing into question.

Legality of Testing 

With the ever-changing state cannabis laws and the potential for cannabis to be legalized on the federal level, the nation is basically in a “trial and error” situation. Regardless, employers must keep current with these ever-changing circumstances to protect themselves and their employees.  

The medical nature of marijuana usage further complicates the matter. Currently, 33 states issue medical marijuana cards, which permits users to use marijuana to treat medical issues. Business News Daily says, “Several states have specific laws protecting medical cannabis patients from employment discrimination. Typically, employers can require drug testing before employment and at random times, so long as there is no discrimination against medical marijuana users [who] are legally allowed cannabis for medicinal reasons.”

Besides the debate over medical marijuana cards, employers are stymied about what to do regarding recreational use as it pertains to the workplace. Since testing results can return positive weeks after the person smokes, there is really no way to tell if someone is a habitual user or it was a one-time event.

The states are divided. Currently, about 20 states will not allow discrimination in the workplace. But there is only one state that has gone so far as to say that recreational use of marijuana use is acceptable: Maine. Other states are starting to follow suit. Nevada law ensures that there can be no adverse outcomes for positive tests. And New York City will soon get rid of pre-employment testing altogether. 

Other states are not so quick to change. For instance, workers in Illinois can still be disqualified as applicants or terminated as employees for a positive test. Currently, Illinois allows for the “good faith belief” that employees can consider workers under the influence if their speech or actions seem impaired.    

Unfortunately, even the court systems do not agree. In some recent cases, the judge has sided with state rights, and in others, the federal appeal was victorious.

Moving forward, employees and employers need to continue the “wait and see” approach until federal and state employment laws catch up to the legalization of cannabis. For now, employers must determine their comfort levels with recreational marijuana use as it pertains to safety in the workplace.


Samantha Vanegas retains a MBA from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business. She works with the leaders of small start-up and growth-stage companies and non-profit organizations who seek temporary leadership to support growth and transitions. Whether for project-based work or as an interim manager, she is fabulous at supporting individuals and teams who are passionate about their work and need help bringing order to all the moving parts. She addresses common issues such as: how to build effective organizational infrastructure and systems; and, how to create and implement a strategy that will carry your business forward. She is a problem-solver who is able to envision the sum of the parts during and through transitions. She has a strong background in sales, operations, HR and marketing which elevates her expertise in assisting organizations with compliance intelligence and also with user, customer and employee experience surveys and solutions.

ath Power Consulting is an all-in-one resource for multi-modality survey and mystery shop research, competitive intelligence, compliance auditing, market analyses, employee training, and strategic consulting. Since 1997, we have helped our clients improve customer retention, build brand loyalty and advocacy, deepen employee engagement, measure compliance, maximize performance, and increase profitability – distinguishing them from their competition and giving them a commanding edge in the marketplace.

Protected: Webinar Recording: Illinois Market – What’s Happening And What’s Next?

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Member Blog: Social Equity In Illinois

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by Shawnee Williams, Recruiter & Account Manager at Illinois Equity Staffing

Recently, we had the pleasure of joining a webinar hosted by NCIA in which they discussed the state of the Illinois market. The #IndustryEssentials presentation covered topics such as Illinois House Bill 1438, social justice reform, licensing and social equity. 

Social equity just so happens to be a topic near and dear to my heart and is something we advocate for in everything we do in the industry. So let’s talk about it. What exactly is social equity and why is Illinois always in the social equity conversation? Well, social equity came about as an answer, if you will, to the many unfair statistics we see in the industry as a whole. What statistics, you ask? Well, 80% of the cannabis industry is owned by white males, even though minorities are four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses. Social equity is an intentional effort to lessen the gap and provide all people the opportunity to operate and work in the cannabis industry.

One misconception people tend to have is that social equity is diversity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By definition, a diverse team is a team of people that represents differing racial and ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disabilities, and military status. Diversity is about pulling together a well-rounded team to be more successful in solving the customers’ needs.

Social equity is purely about socioeconomic barriers. While that may be written in cannabis regulations differently depending on the state, here in Illinois, a social equity cannabis organization is defined as:

  1. A cannabis organization that is at least 51% or more owned by individuals who hold social equity status.
  2. OR a cannabis organization that has at least 51% or more of employees who hold social equity status.

How do we determine if a person holds social equity status here in Illinois? The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) surveyed census records to determine what areas had poverty levels 20% above the national average, what areas had 20% or more of families on food assistance programs and what areas that had schools with 75% or more of their students on the free lunch program. These particular areas were then surveyed for the prevalence of high drug-related arrests and this map was created.

If you type in an address and the address is covered in blue, that means that area is a disproportionately impacted area or “DIA”. Now there’s yet another layer to social equity; the war on drugs. If you received a charge, conviction, or arrest related to cannabis in Illinois, that now is expungable under the new Illinois bill you have social equity status. But wait, there’s more. If you have a parent, spouse, or child who received a charge, conviction, or arrest, that means you have been affected by the War on Drugs and also have social equity status.

Families who weathered the trauma of the war on drugs saw it in lost opportunities, barriers to entry, and constant judgment because of possessions, distribution, or consumption of a plant that is now legal in the state of Illinois. Far too often, these charges affected people already living in disproportionately impacted areas. 

So what are the rules?

For principal officers applying for licenses:

You must have lived in a DIA for at least five years and have two forms of identification proving this, including, state ID, driver’s license, pay stubs, voter registration cards, utility bills, or anything else the state may deem acceptable forms of residency.

You, your parent, your spouse, or your child has a charge, conviction, or arrest that is now expungable under the bill. This too must be proven with proper documentation of such arrest, charge, or conviction.

For employees:

You must currently live in a DIA and have two forms of identification proving this, including state ID, driver’s license, pay stubs, voter registration cards, utility bills, or anything else the state may deem acceptable forms of residence.

You, your parent, your spouse, or your child has a charge, conviction, or arrest that is now expungable under the bill. This too must be proven with proper documentation of such arrest, charge, or conviction.

While this all sounds very complicated, it is an effort by the state of Illinois to balance the scales. HB1438, although not perfect and never claimed to be, strives to right the wrongs of the war on drugs. While social equity holds 25% weight in the application process, we’re yet to see how it will be regulated for licensees in operation. With that said, many organizations in Illinois intend to keep those scales balanced and celebrate the most equitable cannabis market yet.


Rashaunah “Shawnee” Williams is the co-founder at Illinois Equity Staffing, a minority, disabled and woman-owned business based in Chicago, that supports the cannabis industry in education, job placement, human resources, payroll and compliance. While a south suburban native, Shawnee has also lived in Florida, Tennesee, Missouri, Nebraska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and California. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business and has worked in industries such as entertainment, recruiting, tech, higher education, marketing and sales. 

Shawnee and her business partner Lynette Johnson founded Illinois Equity Staffing because they understood the barriers to entry for lower and middle class people, minorities and women in the cannabis industry. Both having the Corporate America background, Shawnee and Lynette, understand the pain points of this population, as they both grew up in disproportionately impacted areas and are minority women. It’s this perspective that has allowed Illinois Equity Staffing to bridge the gap and create a more equitable cannabis industry in Illinois.

Shawnee also brings another unique perspective to IES, as she suffers from Lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome, two disabilities that involve the immune system. As a Black woman suffering from two autoimmune diseases, Shawnee advocates for those with debilitating diseases seeking more knowledge on alternative and holistic approaches to symptoms causes by autoimmune diseases. She also is an advocate for those suffering from disabilities that seek to find more uplifting, supportive and progressive employers. 

The cannabis industry has the opportunity to show older, more traditional industries the areas of opportunity to improve and to be more responsible. As such, Shawnee Williams and the team at Illinois Equity Staffing seek to be a leader in promoting a more socially equitable and diverse industry within the cannabis space in Illinois and nationally.

 

Webinar: NCIA Committee Insights – Illinois Market – What’s Happening and What’s Next

Join us on Monday, May 11 at 1:00 PM MT for this webinar.

How is the 11th state to permit adult-use cannabis doing, and what’s coming next? Want to get your foot in the door? Join us in a lively conversation about Illinois application and licensing.

Considering expansion to Illinois from another market? Learn how Illinois differs from other markets on some key issues. Think it’s essential that states successfully innovate to promote social equity?

We’ll discuss what Illinois is doing well and where the gaps are in regards to their Social Equity program. Join industry thought-leaders from NCIA’s State Regulations Committee as they discuss these crucial topics and more.

REGISTER NOW

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand License Types
  • Learn about Social Consumption in Illinois, and What’s Coming Next
  • Compare Illinois Marketing and Advertising Differences
  • How Illinois is Handling Social Equity

Committee Blog: Ending The Ban On Interstate Commerce (Part 1)

By Gabriel Cross, CEO of Odyssey Distribution
Member of NCIA’s State Regulations Committee

Oversupply and shortages, high prices and lack of choice for patients and consumers, illicit markets, tainted products, and the inability to access banking and capital all plague the burgeoning cannabis industry. While cannabis advocates and industry leaders are working on each of these problems, there is one solution that would ease the burden on all of them. Allowing for interstate trade between states with legal cannabis markets would improve each of these issues while supporting the individual solutions to each that the industry has been working on. This is the first post in a series that explores the benefits and barriers to setting up a legal framework for interstate trade, even before wholesale legalization at the federal level.

Since the beginning of legal, adult-use cannabis, when Colorado and Washington passed the first ballot measure allowing for adult-use, the industry was guided by the Cole Memo, which laid out the parameters for the federal government staying out of the states’ cannabis experiments. Among other things, the Cole memo stated that the DEA could crackdown on cannabis moving from states with well-regulated systems to states that do not allow cannabis. This statement has been interpreted conservatively to mean that no cannabis should cross state lines for any reason, ever, based on the fact that at the federal level, cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Today, there are 10 states which have legalized adult-use, another 19 which allow for medical use, and six more which allow the use of CBD products only. Many of these states share borders, and producer states could serve several nearby markets without ever entering a state that does not allow cannabis in any form. Furthermore, the Cole Memo, which was rescinded by Jeff Sessions in 2018, has not been replaced by any guidance whatsoever. This means that each U.S. Attorney’s office is free to set their own enforcement priorities around state-legal cannabis activities, and there is no official overriding policy at the DOJ on interstate trade between states with medical or adult use. Corresponding guidance from FinCEN, however, remains in effect and similarly discourages the transfer of cannabis between states. 

Cannabis markets vary widely from state to state with regard to the underlying market dynamics and challenges that they face. Some states produce too much while other states experience shortages. Meanwhile, new states pass legislation or have voter initiatives that allow medical or adult-use every year without any infrastructure in place to supply that state’s demand. In each new legal market, the vast majority of demand had long been met through illicit market supply, and generally from outside of the state’s boundaries.

The artificial boundaries around cannabis markets have far-reaching impacts for local economies, patient access, illicit market activity, and social equity. Later posts in this series will take a deep dive into each of these issues, and in this post, we will look at how this has impacted states, the industry, and consumers so far.

Lessons Learned:

  • Washington State chose to take the strictest possible reading of the Cole Memo, and insist that not only must cannabis not cross state lines but also sources of funding must come from within the state. Combined with their high capitalization requirement for licenses, the result was a disaster from an equity standpoint: only wealthy and well-connected individuals in the state (which are overwhelmingly white males) were able to even attempt a license. This decision was based substantially on the fact that interstate trade was not allowed.
  • In Oregon, which has an ideal growing climate and a long tradition of exporting cannabis (albeit in the illicit market), the artificial boundaries created by the ban on interstate trade lead to a massive oversupply for its small population, which crippled the industry and tanked many small businesses. Despite the fact that Oregonians consume more cannabis per capita than any state, their climate and culture have led to growing massive quantities of world-class cannabis that cannot reach patients and consumers, even in neighboring states that might have under-supply issues. The result is that hundreds of small, mom-and-pop shops and family farms have gone out of business, eradicating millions of dollars of local capital, and accelerating mass consolidation of the industry into the hands of a few foreign corporations. Meanwhile, in medical markets like Illinois and Michigan, patients have had sporadic access to quality cannabis-based medicines.
  • When Nevada originally launched, due to the influence of local liquor distributors, it was almost impossible to get products to market, and the state’s dispensaries sold out on the first day of sales. After ironing out some of the kinks, sales are going strong, but the practice of growing thirsty plants indoors in the desert is of dubious value when the same plant can be grown with a fraction of the inputs in northern California and southern Oregon.
  • California’s legal system is a perfect example of how over-regulation fuels illicit market activity. Because of the structure of their regulatory framework and high taxes, the state is served by only 800 licensed dispensaries, whose prices are double and triple those found on the illicit market for similar products. This has led to the emergence of thousands of “pop-up” or unlicensed dispensaries, selling untested products tax-free in a thriving illicit market. The booming illicit market in California has also led to massive wholesale markets of hardware, branded packaging, and flavoring and cutting agents (all technically legal) to supply the illegal operators with everything they need to look legitimate. This is a major contributing factor to the wide-spread vaping related illness cases popping up all over the country, as many illicit market operators purchase their supplies in downtown Los Angeles.
  • The ban on interstate trade promises to continue to create new and novel problems as well. If New York, the 4th most populous state in the union, legalized adult-use (which seems likely in the near future), and interstate trade were still banned, it would require a massive investment, on the order of billions of dollars, to create enough indoor and greenhouse grow facilities to supply the demand created by its 19 million inhabitants. The recent legalization of hemp under the last Farm Bill has created a number of legal dilemmas as well, as some individual states that do not recognize any difference between hemp and cannabis flower have seized products and arrested individuals taking hemp legally grown in one state to a market where it is legal to sell.

Some suggest that these issues will be sorted in local markets, and in each state individually this approach might seem to make sense. When you add these problems together, though, a much more elegant, efficient, and obvious solution emerges: let states that have always exported cannabis send it to states that have always imported it. A set of different and seemingly unconnected problems become each other’s solutions.

Historically, people across the country have consumed cannabis, and the vast majority of it was grown in a few locations that are particularly well-suited to the plant. It is highly likely that a fully-matured nationwide legal market (one which must account for not only interstate, but also international competition) will ultimately be best served by the same general market dynamics. The only question is: how long will we allow the artificial market boundaries around each state to decimate local capital, curb access for patients and consumers, encourage investments that are attractive short-term but disastrous long-term, and prop up the illegal markets that pose a public health risk?

Interstate trade between states that allow some form of legal cannabis would provide much-needed relief on a number of fronts for cannabis businesses, and could be structured in such a way to support social equity efforts. With a little guidance on enforcement and thoughtful programs and agreements between states, there is a path to legal interstate commerce even before cannabis is removed from the Controlled Substances Act. The state of Oregon has already passed legislation allowing for the export and import of cannabis products provided that the Federal Government allows it. This could be either through legislation such as the proposed Blumenauer/Widen State Cannabis Commerce Act, or though DOJ enforcement guidance (whether from the Attorney General or the relevant local U.S. Attorney’s). There are multiple paths that can lead to the end of banned interstate trade, and it seems increasingly inevitable that we will see legal cannabis trade across state borders in the near future. For most operators in the cannabis industry, and for all patients and consumers, this will be a good thing, and can’t come soon enough.


Gabriel Cross is a Founder and CEO at Odyssey Distribution, LLC, a distributor for locally-owned craft cannabis producers and processors in Oregon. Gabe worked in the sustainable building industry for a decade before starting Odyssey and brings his experience with sustainability and systems thinking to his work in the cannabis industry. Odyssey manages logistics, sales and marketing for boutique producers so they can focus on creating great craft cannabis products for the Oregon market.

Member Blog: Legal Cannabis in Illinois – Expanded Possibilities For All

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by Payal Shah, Cannabis Insight Collective

Today, Governor Jim Pritzker of Illinois signed the historic House Bill 1438, The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, into law, ending prohibition for recreational cannabis usage across the state, and making it the 11th state where cannabis is legal. I, along with so many others in Illinois, and around the United States, am just as excited as the Governor.

The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation. This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.” – Governor Pritzker, IL

This is a game-changer for the state of Illinois and its constituents. Public health, education, and tourism are just a few of the areas that are expected to emerge victoriously by being some of the beneficiaries of the $170 million dollars in expected tax revenue in early years.

But to me, what’s even more extraordinary is the fact that within IL’s legalization law is a visionary plan that will serve as inspiration to advance the nation’s social equity movement in this industry. 

With the end of cannabis prohibition, we see the beginning of the end to the “war on drugs” as we know it, one that shrouded lower-income and traditionally Latinx and African-American communities in an unjust and unfair light.

The ACLU states that people in the United States use and sell marijuana at roughly the same rate regardless of their race, yet a black person is almost four times more likely than a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession nationwide. In addition, roughly 13,000 people were deported or separated from their communities and families in 2013 alone for drug-related offenses.

Even the word marijuana itself can be considered negative and racist, based on a longstanding theory that narcotics agents in the 1930s chose a word of Mexican-Spanish origin over the more scientific word cannabis when crafting drug laws, making it sound more sinister and associated with a certain community. 

The equitable measures put into place in Illinois’ cannabis legalization law are unprecedented when it comes to making sure the end of cannabis prohibition will result in brighter days for the masses, not just a select few.  

A FAIR SHOT FOR ALL

New processing and cultivation licenses will be issued in mid-2020, with growers from communities negatively impacted the most by cannabis prohibition getting priority within the application process.

A SECOND CHANCE

Up to 770,000 people in Illinois qualify to have their marijuana convictions expunged from their criminal record, healing past wounds and providing access to new opportunities that weren’t available in the past because of past marijuana laws.

OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH

One quarter of cannabis taxes collected will fund a grant program that will invest in minority communities impacted most negatively by cannabis prohibition, driving cannabis business opportunities, by offering assistance and mentorship.

Even 2020 candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand shared her comprehensive plan to legalize marijuana on a Federal level immediately if she becomes president. In that plan, social equity is also the primary focus on the path to legalization.

The unfair enforcement of our current marijuana laws is a continuation of the institutional racism that has defined our criminal justice system for decades… We’re talking about entire lives, families, and communities being derailed: felony convictions make it much harder to get and keep jobs, access financial loans, exercise the right to vote, travel abroad, and receive social and housing benefits.” – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

And just recently, Chicago-based Cresco Labs launched its Social Equity & Educational Department (SEED), an initiative aimed at promoting inclusion, equality and community engagement, through community outreach, educational support and incubators for veteran, minority and women-owned businesses. 

Our SEED initiative is designed to ensure that all members of our society have the skills, knowledge and opportunity to work in and own businesses in this industry….the SEED initiative consists of impactful programs and actionable solutions-based approaches that we believe will help make the cannabis industry a highly inclusive force for job creation.” – Charlie Bachtell, CEO, Cresco Lab

I also believe in a fair and equitable cannabis industry that unites as one to fix the damage done within certain communities as a direct result of cannabis prohibition. The National Cannabis Industry Association, along with the Minority Cannabis Business Association, are helping to shape laws and create a roadmap for local governments to address social equity issues right from the start of legalization.

“It is fitting that the Land of Lincoln is moving forward with such extensive measures to reverse the damage done to people of color and low-income communities by the government’s senseless war on cannabis consumers. We cannot continue to pursue legalization without considering restorative justice, and Illinois is definitely starting on the right foot in this regard,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).

And as further fuel to ignite the social equity movement, with the end of prohibition in sight, we’re also seeing exponential growth in all sectors of cannabis business. And with that growth comes a highly qualified talent boom in cannabis, with executives from all industries making the move to join and imagine an exciting new space together, from all perspectives. One exciting space that cannabis businesses can look to Corporate America for inspiration is within Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

Corporate Social Responsibility programs, or CSR, is a way for companies to conduct their business in a manner that is ethical, while taking their social, economic and environmental impact, along with the consideration of human rights, into account. It can be a win-win situation for all parties involved – through CSR programs, businesses can benefit society while boosting their own brands. Most have probably heard of Tom’s Shoes, and their popular “One for One” CSR program, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair bought. General Electrics donated over $38 million to community and education programs in 2016. Disney has a “VoluntEARs” program, which allows all of their employees to use a portion of their hours towards volunteer efforts.

With so many new brands coming into the market following legalization, it’s important that they find a way to stand apart and above the competition, while delivering a relevant brand experience. In order to do that successfully, brands need to stand for something, something that matters to people. And what we’re hearing from legislators and constituents alike is that social equity in the cannabis industry matters a lot. It’s a space for us, as responsible cannabis business owners paving a path forward, to come together and share not only the secrets of their success, but also to share the gains with the entire cannabis community, in order to lift everyone up – to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.

The possibilities are limitless, just like the new frontier of cannabis. I look forward to seeing how we all grow together.


Payal Shah is founder and CEO of the Cannabis Insight Collective. She’s spent the last two decades in strategic planning, working in leadership roles within global advertising agencies, on blue-chip clients including Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft, Walmart, Kelloggs, and Porsche.

Her experience is focused on understanding how cultural paradigm shifts and trends impact and influence people, their behaviors and brand choices. Her knowledge is grounded in creating and cultivating online panels, or Collectives, of all sizes and shapes, to address a variety of challenges for various clients. This background, along with a compassion and conviction for the cannabis industry, inspire her to be an advocate to drive the cannabis industry forward. 

Cannabis Insight Collective is a living, breathing online community of people across the United States, brought together by their connection to the cannabis industry. We exist to uncover cultural, category and consumer trends and insights within the category by tapping into our proprietary Collective, and working with people directly to answer questions that brands are struggling to answer.  

At Cannabis Insight Collective, we are committed to supporting social equity in the cannabis market, and treating everyone fairly and respectively, through a number of Corporate Social Responsibility business initiatives:

  • The Cannabis Insight Collective panel will be representative of the entire United States population to ensure a representative voice is heard.
  • A percentage of CIC’s revenue will be donated to the advancement and mentorship of minority-owned cannabis businesses.
  • CIC will continue to advocate to establish new and existing laws that make sure the cannabis industry is fair and equitable.

 

 

Wrapping Up 2018 Cannabis Caucus Events, Introducing New 2019 Events!

October marked the last NCIA events of the year with Cannabis Caucus events in eight regions nationwide and an outstanding 2nd Annual California Cannabis Business Conference in Anaheim, California. As this year’s events comes to a close, we have so much to reflect on and exciting new events to announce!

During this quarter’s Cannabis Caucus events, more than 400 NCIA members, representing 250 member companies, totaling in more than 750 attendees turned out for our eight events nationwide. This means that although these events are growing increasingly popular, they are still small enough to make meaningful connections with other industry leaders in your region. Instead of just making small talk with someone in passing, you’ll get to to have real conversations with some of the most influential leaders in the industry. Year after year, we hear about people striking business partnerships, friendships and impactful connections at these events because they offer the time, space and opportunity to do so.

In the industry’s largest markets, Northern California, Southern California, and Colorado, more than 100 industry professionals turned out at each event. But, perhaps most impressive was the 75 plus attendance in the Midwest, maybe a harbinger of the positive momentum garnered by statewide reform initiatives in this year’s midterm elections!

Cannabis Caucus Highlights

A the Northeast event, attendees heard the latest news surrounding medical cannabis in Maine from State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-District 20), as well as Maine’s adult-use cannabis laws from David Boyer, Maine Political Director at Marijuana Policy Project.

The event in Northern California featured special guest speaker Heidi Mattos, a payroll tax specialist from the State of California Employment & Development Department, who shared critical insights into state payroll tax regulations. In Southern California, we heard a special presentation on “Understanding California Agricultural Labor Laws As It Relates to Cannabis Cultivators” from guest speaker Eduardo Blanco, Special legal Advisor from the CA Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

The Southwest event featured Ryan Black, Campaign Co-Chair for Anita Malik, Candidate for Arizona’s Congressional District 6, discussing federal cannabis reform. Lastly, in the Pacific Northwest, Lara Kaminsky, Executive Director of The Cannabis Alliance (an NCIA Allied Association), spoke about the latest developments in Washington state’s cannabis industry, including the current status of the edibles product ban.

See the full photo album on Facebook!

What Makes NCIA Regional Events Unique

As the largest national trade association in the U.S. and the only organization representing more than 1,700 cannabis-related businesses at the national level, we have pretty deep connections. We know that 70 percent of the individuals who attend our regional events have executive level decision-making authority and 30 percent have heavy decision-making influence. All of this is to say that the caliber of the meaningful connections you will make have the potential to benefit your business in very real ways and quickly.

We also know that these boutique events are frequently attended by industry pioneers and dedicated policy reform advocates, the movers and shakers of the industry, who have helped support the movement for decades. Repeatedly, we hear from event attendees that these events are their favorite because of the quality of the event, the attendees and the sense of community and camaraderie they foster.

What’s Next? NCIA’s New 2019 Regional Event Series Announced

NCIA has just published the 2019 event calendar! Due to popular demand for even more regional networking opportunities nationwide, NCIA is launching two new regional event series in 2019: Industry Socials and Harvest Celebrations and refreshing our well-known Cannabis Caucus Series.

NCIA’s Industry Socials are about cultivating regional communities of industry professionals, so that they can connect and learn from each other. Cultivating community is the most effective way to strengthen our industry and your business. Touring five cities in the West Coast, East Coast and Heartland regions, NCIA’s Industry Socials are the premier opportunity for cannabis professionals to harness NCIA’s extensive national network by creating meaningful connections with each other and with NCIA staff in a relaxed cocktail setting. Join us to expand your network and cultivate our community! Tickets to Industry Socials are complimentary to NCIA members and only $25 to non-members. Registration opens for the West Coast Tour on November 27!

NCIA’s Harvest Celebrations will be hosted in five cities in October to honor the cannabis harvesting season and celebrate the continued growth of our industry! Proceeds from NCIA’s inaugural Harvest Celebration events will foster support for NCIA’s federal lobbying work on behalf of businesses serving the industry and the industry at-large.

In light of these new 2019 NCIA events, we also have exciting new sponsorship opportunities to offer! Download the 2019 Event Sponsorship Deck or contact us for more information. Consider this your opportunity to get your brand in front of thousands of new businesses in diverse regions nationwide.

Video Newsletter: Member Spotlight on Cresco Labs from Chicago

This month, NCIA’s video newsletter introduces you to one of our members based in Chicago.

Cresco Labs is a medical cannabis company licensed to develop and operate medical cannabis cultivation centers in Illinois.

James Beard Award-winning chef Mindy Segal recently joined the team to head up the edible product line at Cresco Labs. Meet Mindy, as well as Cresco CEO and founder Charles Bachtell, as they share a bit about their company partnership and how they got involved in the National Cannabis Industry Association.

You can meet the Cresco Labs team and more than 3,000 other cannabis industry leaders at the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, CA, June 20-22. Get your tickets today!


Want your voice heard in our nation’s capitol on issues affecting the cannabis industry? Join us for our 6th Annual NCIA Member Lobby Days in Washington, D.C., on May 12 & 13, 2016.

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State of the States: NCIA’s Affiliate Program

What is NCIA’s state affiliate program?

Over the last two years, members from particular states have approached us here at NCIA with the idea of forming state-focused affiliates. While NCIA’s mission is dedicated to federal policy change and the support of a national industry that is coordinated, sustainable, and responsible, we’ve begun a journey with a few of these dedicated members looking to do the same at the state level. Many of our members are already familiar with our state affiliates in California and Illinois.

NCIA dedicates its policy work to issues at the federal level, which informs the playing field for all 50 states. However, individual state cannabis markets have their own unique needs and challenges. An NCIA state affiliate is tasked with pursuing the same priorities as NCIA’s federal mission – advocacy, education, and community – but with a zoomed-in focus on state legislation and regulations, city ordinances, and local networking and business development. The combination of NCIA and a state affiliate gives members a powerfully unified voice in influencing legislation that is fair towards our industry.

How does the state affiliate program work?

Each state affiliate is an independent entity from NCIA, which elects its own board of directors and has its own decision-making processes. The affiliates are non-profit organizations, and dues are collected from members to be used for state advocacy work.

Membership dues for the state affiliate are split between the state affiliate and NCIA, and members of the state affiliate are automatically added to the rosters of NCIA’s national membership, although many members still choose to maintain separate memberships with both the state affiliate and NCIA.

Our state affiliates currently exist in the two most populous states with active medical marijuana programs in place: California and Illinois. We checked in with the leadership of each affiliate to hear more about their progress and activities at the state level.

 

CCIA-LogoCCIA-Logo-300x294California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA)

CCIA’s Executive Director and co-founder is Nate Bradley, who works closely with their official lobbyist, Amy Jenkins, to influence fair legislation and policies for the ever-evolving cannabis industry. CCIA’s membership currently sits at 132 members and growing. 

“In 2015, CCIA hosted numerous well-attended membership networking and educational events throughout the state,” says Bradley. “We also added new staff to our ranks. In the fall we hired a Membership Coordinator. This in turn greatly increased our ability to reach out and provide services to our current members and build new membership at the same time.”

CCIA focuses on the state regulatory structure for California’s cannabis industry, working to influence regulations for the medical marijuana industry in the state legislature. CCIA has endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), a full legalization state ballot initiative being proposed for 2016. 

“More than any other legalization measures competing for the 2016 state ballot, AUMA represents the collective input of California’s lawful medical cannabis industry,” said CCIA President Sean Luse, who is also COO of the nation’s longest continually operating medical cannabis dispensary, Berkeley Patients Group.

So what are CCIA’s plans for the upcoming year?

“CCIA has a lot of big plans for 2016,” says Bradley. “Currently we are planning on bringing a new deputy director, increasing the amount of events we hold, developing our local government outreach program, and increasing the amount of membership committees we have.”

“We will also be heavily involved in any legislation clean-up, tracking the regulatory rule-writing process, and last but not least, making sure we are actively involved in influencing any cannabis ballot initiatives that may go before voters in November.”

CCIA’s 2015 victories are listed here, along with details of the requests that were successfully negotiated and included in the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.

 

IllinoisCIA_Logo_FNL_RGB_ForWebIllinois Cannabis Industry Association (ILCIA)

Kayvan Khalatbari, co-founder of Denver Relief, serves on the board of directors for ILCIA and offers insight into the progress of its formation over the last year. “With all the work the National Cannabis Industry Association is doing to progress policy, advocacy, and education on the federal level, it’s important to have that same influence on the state level,” says Khalatbari.

“We’re working hard to create a model that is in line with NCIA’s mission and tone, but also considerate of the cultural and political nuances present in Illinois. We’ve assembled a great group to form our initial board of directors, which includes cultivation and dispensary operators, attorneys, lobbyists and ancillary service providers… in a sense, most stakeholders in this new and exciting industry. We intend on bringing aboard a doctor and a patient representative as well in this new year to ensure all voices relevant to the success of this industry have a seat at the table.”

kayvan
Kayvan Khalatbari, co-founder of Denver Relief and board member of ILCIA

“With our current 25 members we have some room to grow, but have no doubt that will happen as we become more active and visible in 2016. Between assisting in the development and implementation of the NCIA local Cannabis Caucuses here in Chicago, assembling our own quarterly educational symposiums, networking events, and a lobby day in April, as well as collaborating with other groups to add qualifying conditions in the medical cannabis program, we’re poised to make a big push in having a positive and responsible influence as this industry gets off the ground here.”

“The bridge to our national partners at NCIA can only benefit that push forward and help ensure that cannabis businesses in Illinois are represented at all levels of government for years to come.”

 

Looking to get involved in one of our state affiliates? Visit their websites:

CCIA – www.cacannabisindustry.org

ILCIA – www.ilcia.org

 


Join us for our 6th Annual NCIA Member Lobby Days in Washington, D.C. on May 12 & 13, 2016.

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2016: What’s Next?

by Michelle Rutter, Government Relations Coordinator

This year is arguably the most crucial yet for the burgeoning cannabis industry, especially as it relates to policy. Although NCIA primarily advocates for cannabis reform at the federal level, what happens in each individual state is vital to the stances Members of Congress take on our issues.

Members of Congress care deeply about issues that directly affect their specific state or district. It’s imperative that more states enact cannabis reform legislation so that more Members have a vested interest in protecting their constituents. While cannabis reform is sweeping the nation at an almost unprecedented rate, it takes time for politicians in Washington, D.C., to catch up with public opinion back home. If all of the federal lawmakers representing just the 15 states mentioned below were to vote positively on pro-cannabis legislation, it would add up to more than 180 Representatives and nearly 30 Senators.

Take a look below and see what’s coming up next in 2016. Remember that by becoming a member of NCIA, you are adding your voice to the coordinated and unified campaign at the federal level to allow cannabis businesses access to financial services, fix tax section 280E, and ultimately end federal cannabis prohibition.

The United States of Cannabis

          • Arizona activists remain ahead of schedule and have nearly gathered the 150,000 signatures needed to put the state’s Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative on the November 2016 ballot. (The campaign ultimately aims to collect 230,000 in order to insure against signature drop-off.) It’s estimated that Arizona’s adult-use market could be worth up to $480 million.
          • With a multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry in California alone, passing an adult-use legalization initiative in the state is vital to ending federal prohibition. The most prominent full retail initiative gathering signatures for the November 2016 election is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which is backed by billionaire Sean Parker and the Marijuana Policy Project.
          • Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project have joined forces to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2016. Legalize Maine has already collected 80,000 signatures. Only 61,000 signatures are necessary to place the measure on a statewide ballot, but the organization’s goal is 95,000, to insure against drop-off. The deadline to submit signatures is February 1st.
          • Last August, a pair of cannabis advocacy groups separately filed paperwork to get adult-use legalization on the 2016 ballot in Massachusetts. The state recently confirmed that a measure to legalize recreational cannabis next year has enough valid signatures to force the legislature to consider the measure. If the legislature decides to pass, then the campaign will have to collect another 10,792 signatures to formally make the November ballot.
          • There’s no question that adult-use legalization will be on the ballot this year in Nevada. Initiative Petition 1, which would tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol, has been certified for the 2016 ballot. Backers had previously collected nearly 200,000 signatures to either force legislators to enact their initiative or put it on the ballot. When state lawmakers abstained from voting on the issue, the measure was automatically forwarded to this year’s ballot for a popular vote.
          • In Florida, the group United for Care received clearance from the state Supreme Court for a 2016 ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana. The group nearly succeeded in legalizing medical marijuana in 2014, garnering 58% of the vote but falling barely short of the state’s constitutionally mandated 60% margin needed to pass, 
          • The nation’s capital continues to debate cannabis. In December’s federal budget bill, the taxation and regulation of marijuana in Washington, D.C., was blocked by Congress again, though possessing and gifting cannabis remains legal in the city.
          • This month, Hawaii will begin accepting applications for medical cannabis businesses. The bill signed into law last summer opens the door for up to 16 dispensaries on the islands.
          • It was recently announced that Illinois saw approximately $1.7 million in medical cannabis sales during November and December of 2015. There are already petitions being circulated in the state that would expand the law’s qualifying conditions.
          • Maryland will award cannabis cultivation, processing, and dispensary licenses this summer. Industry advocates were pleased with the amount of interest the state’s program garnered: more than 1,000 applications were submitted.
          • Officials in Michigan have approved language for three different adult-use cannabis legalization initiatives for the 2016 ballot. In order to have the best chance of passing, it’s important for these groups to coalesce behind one initiative.
          • At the end of 2015, New Hampshire began issuing medical marijuana cards to qualifying patients. It’s expected that the state will open medical dispensaries in 2016.Map-of-US-state-cannabis-laws
          • After a long and arduous journey, New York’s medical cannabis program became operational this month. The cannabis industry expects the program and the law’s qualifying conditions to expand this year.
          • In the first week of 2016, Oregon began accepting adult-use cannabis business license applications. The state has no limit on how many licenses they will decide to award.
          • Vermont may become the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process in 2016. The proposed bill would allow for up to 86 storefronts and five different business license types.

 

Bonus: Election 2016 – Yes, We Canna

            • As we all know, a new president will be elected this November, and with that a new administration will assume power next January. It is very crucial that Congress pass more pro-cannabis legislation before then.
            • It’s probable that Attorney General Loretta Lynch will be replaced in 2016 or early 2017. This is important because it is the Department of Justice that enforces and prosecutes federal marijuana laws.
            • Another possibility for 2016 is that the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, could be replaced as well. Rosenberg is notorious for his gaffe last year when he called marijuana “probably” less dangerous than heroin.
            • On New Year’s Eve, officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration posted a notice on the Federal Register that calls for a report “presenting the state of the science on substance use, addiction and health” to be released in 2016. Industry advocates are hopeful that this report could be the first sign of re- or de-scheduling cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.
            • During 2016, NCIA will continue working with D.C.-based public affairs firms Heather Podesta + Partners, and Jochum Shore & Trossevin PC to magnify our efforts to address the industry’s top federal priorities: access to basic banking services and fair federal taxation.

 

In addition to NCIA’s lobbying and advocacy efforts, NCIA exists to connect and educate our members on all facets of the cannabis industry. Our industry supports tens of thousands of jobs, tens of millions in tax revenue, and billions in economic activity in the United States. Our core mission is to ensure that our members are treated like businesses in any other American industry. Join NCIA today to get involved and be a part of the cannabis revolution!


Join us for our 6th Annual NCIA Member Lobby Days in Washington, D.C. on May 12 & 13, 2016.

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Announcing NCIA’s January – June 2016 Events Calendar

As we head into the new year, we wanted to share with you our upcoming event calendar for the first 6 months of 2016! This includes the Q1 and Q2 events in our new event series, the Quarterly Cannabis Caucuses, a fundraiser for our federal PAC where members of our Board of Directors will be present, our 6th annual Federal Lobby Days, and our 3rd annual Cannabis Business Summit.

Click on the images below for more information on the upcoming events.

Quarterly Cannabis Caucuses

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6th Annual Federal Lobby Days
Cannabis Business Summit

So what are you waiting for? Register for an upcoming event today!

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Do you have questions regarding any upcoming events in your area or others across the country? Reach out to events@thecannabisindustry.org any time with your questions, comments, or concerns.

Interested in sponsoring one or a series of events in a particular region throughout the year in order to gain valuable exposure for your company to our nationwide network of established business owners? Please contact Brian Gilbert at brian@thecannabisindustry.org for more information on series rates and associated discounts for packages.

Interested in speaking at the upcoming Cannabis Business Summit? Please contact brooke@thecannabisindustry.org for more information on remaining opportunities.

Guest Post: Illinois Cannabis Businesses – Guidelines for Compliance with Illinois Employment Laws

By Jennifer Adams Murphy, Esq., and Ryan Helgeson, Esq., of Wessels Sherman

If you are successful in obtaining a dispensing or cultivation license under the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (“IMCA”), you have already made a substantial time and financial investment in your new business. You know that to be successful, you must have a dependable workforce. Continued success, however, will require employment policies which will minimize the substantial risks and costs of employment litigation and regulatory challenge. To that end, the following issues should be addressed before you begin to hire employees:

Hiring Considerations

wessels_1Needless to say, your application process must be compliant with state and federal discrimination laws. Of specific relevance to your business will be federal and state laws pertaining to arrest and conviction records. The EEOC generally considers blanket rejection of applicants with conviction records illegal, and state and federal laws prohibit inquiries regarding arrest records. These laws require special attention in your business because the IMCA requires that all employees of a dispensing organization or cultivation center obtain an “agent identification card” which will not be issued under the (proposed) regulations when an applicant has been convicted of violent crimes and certain felonies. Without a card, an individual cannot commence employment under the IMCA. Because of the potential conflict between IMCA regulations and these employment laws, the safest practice is to advise applicants that their employment is contingent upon their receipt of an identification card from the state (rather than incorporating the conviction restriction into your application).

The IMCA requirements for issuance of an agent identification card, which appear to require an applicant to have a Social Security card, are in potential conflict with I-9 employment authorization requirements. Pursuant to I-9 regulations, an employer may not specify which documents an employee provides to demonstrate their employment authorization. An employee can provide any documents that satisfy the Form I-9 requirements; employers cannot insist upon a particular document such as a Social Security card. To avoid violation of federal law, your application process should clearly state that the required Social Security card and state identification card are to meet the agent identification requirements and not for employment authorization purposes.

A contract disclaimer should be included in your employment application to ensure the at-will status of any hired employees.

Employment Record Retention

The proposed IMCA regulations require that all employment-related documents be retained for five years. I-9 employment authorization forms must be completed and retained apart from employees’ personnel files.

Employee Classification

Employers who grow and transport cannabis may be able to take advantage of overtime exemptions under state and federal law. In certain situations, minimum wage exemptions may also be available. However, do not assume minimum wage or overtime exemptions apply — careful evaluation is required. Also, regardless of classification, hours worked must be recorded and retained.

Other Policy Considerations

wesselshandbookAn employment handbook should be considered. Handbooks should have contract disclaimers and must include anti-harassment policies. In addition, employment policies should address privacy issues, particularly given the regulatory requirements of video monitoring in this industry.

Required posters pertaining to employment laws must be posted.

Adoption of an employment dispute arbitration policy should be considered. A carefully drafted arbitration policy will provide for resolution of employee disputes through arbitration rather than in courts.

Voluntary compliance with the Illinois Drug-Free Workplace Act may be a wise choice. After a conditional offer of employment is made, cannabis cultivators may wish to require a drug screening. Thereafter, a program of reasonable suspicion or random drug testing could be implemented.

Employment laws are always challenging to navigate. The issues outlined above are examples of some of the issues which are easily overlooked or misunderstood. A thorough understanding of your responsibilities as an employer in this highly regulated area will diminish the risk of costly and disruptive claims.

For further information, please contact Jennifer Adams Murphy, Shareholder at Wessels Sherman Law Firm (630-377-1554 or jemurphy@wesselssherman.com) or Ryan Helgeson, Associate Attorney (312-629-9300 or ryhelgeson@wesselssherman.com). 

Wessels Sherman is a law firm with offices in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa with a practice limited to management-side labor and employment law, and has been a member of NCIA since September 2014. Ms. Murphy has been practicing for over 27 years, counseling clients and litigating before agencies and state and federal courts. Mr. Helgeson counsels and represents clients in connection with immigration and other employment-related matters.


For more on navigating the complex issues 0f human resources, register today for NCIA’s upcoming Educational Series event, Recruit, Retain, and Develop Your Talent, taking place on March 2 at the History Colorado Center in Denver!

Recruit, Retain and Develop Your Talent — This panel of experts will help you build your human resources competencies! They will present the latest trends in talent acquisition and management. You will learn how to select the best person for the position and your organization, discover how to set and align your teams towards organizational goals, and drive and engage your best performers while managing others, up or out! Acquire the knowledge and tools you need to ensure your employees and your organization are successful. Featuring: Kara Bradford, Chief Talent Officer, Viridian Staffing — Carole Richter, Principal, CRichter ~ HR Consulting, LLC — Maureen McNamara, Cannabis Trainers.

Number of marijuana license seekers in Illinois tops expectations | Chicago Tribune

Illinois received 369 applications for medical marijuana business licenses, which means about 1 in 5 applications will win approval to open grow houses and retail centers in the state.

The state received 211 applications for dispensaries — retail shops for medical marijuana — and 158 applications for grow centers. Illinois will allow 60 dispensaries statewide and 21 grow centers.

Bob Morgan, statewide project coordinator for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, said the number of applications, which were due Monday, was higher than anticipated.

Read more: Number of marijuana license seekers in Illinois tops expectations | Chicago Tribune

Inside the Illinois Medical Marijuana Program with the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association

The Illinois Cannabis Industry Association (ILCIA) is the official Illinois affiliate of NCIA. In advance of NCIA’s Illinois Member Reception and Federal Policy Update on Tuesday, Sept. 16, in Chicago, two of ILCIA’s board members – Dan Linn and Ali Nagib – talked with us about the latest developments for the Illinois medical marijuana pilot program.

ilcia_logo

The number of licenses for cultivation centers and dispensaries are quite limited – only 22 available for cultivation centers and 60 for dispensaries. What are officials with the Illinois Department of Agriculture looking at in applications to determine who will be awarded a license? Is there a chance to earn bonus points in any category?

Dan: The Department of Agriculture will be grading on a number of different features but the grow plan and horticultural experience will be heavily weighted in the scoring. In the event of a tie between competing applications for a single license the application with the higher scored grow plan will be awarded the license.

Ali: The main required categories don’t have specific bonus points available, but each application has an entire Bonus Section of areas that are not required but available for applicants to gain additional points if the required sections meet a certain score threshold.  The Bonus Section areas include Labor and Employment Practices, a Research Plan, a Community Benefits Plan, a Substance Abuse Prevention Plan, a Local Community/Neighborhood Report, an Environmental Plan as well as additional points for Illinois-based applicants and businesses that are minority-owned, female-owned, veteran-owned, or owned by a person with a disability.

Dan-Linn-Picture-193x250
Dan Linn, ILCIA

State officials are making security a high priority for all applications. What kind of standards must applicants meet in their business plan regarding security measures? 

Dan: Applicants will need to have full seed-to-sale inventory tracking accessible in real time by the Illinois State Police.  Security measures will need to include listings of where the bulletproof glass is on the floor diagram of the dispensary, the camera field of vision, the proper-sized televisions to monitor the cameras, as well as background checks on everyone involved in the program.

What is the climate regarding banking access in Illinois? Have any banks come out to say they will allow cannabis businesses to open bank accounts?

Dan: Some banks are just unwilling to work with the cannabis industry. None have publicly come out as being willing to engage this industry, but there are a number of smaller community banks that are handling accounts for cannabis businesses in Illinois.

September 22 is the deadline for submitting applications to open a cultivation center or dispensary. What does the timeline look like for when licenses will be awarded and when is it expected that dispensaries will actually be selling product?

Ali: Recent public reports indicate that licenses will likely be issued later in the fall, probably in November or December. Based on that timeline dispensaries should be open with product on the shelves for patients in late spring/early summer of 2015.

How many expected applications for cultivation centers and dispensaries will be submitted by the September 22 deadline?

Ali: It is likely that there will be an average of at least a few applicants for each of the 82 available licenses, with total applicants numbering anywhere from 250-600.

Applications also just opened for qualifying medical patients to apply for access to medical marijuana. What is the timeline for qualifying patients to apply and when will patients find out if they are accepted into the program?

Ali: Patients with last names beginning A-L can apply now through Oct 31. Patients with last names beginning M-Z can apply Nov. 1-Dec. 31 and beginning Jan. 1 there will be open year-round enrollment for all patients. The state has 30 days by law to process a patient application, plus 14 days to mail it. This means that patients should expect to receive their approval or denial within 45 days of submission.

What are some of the regulations regarding edibles and other infused products?

Ali Nagib
Ali Nagib, ILCIA

Ali: Edibles and other infused products can be produced, but only those that can be kept at room temperature safely; products that require hot-holding or refrigeration are prohibited. Otherwise a wide range of infused products can be produced, and the state regulations have some fairly specific guidelines on the some of the production processes (e.g. which solvents can be used to produce concentrates) in addition to robust testing and labeling requirements.

Dan: Additionally, edibles and infused products must be produced in a sanitary kitchen and cannot look like candy or any name-brand food items.

What is the anticipated cost per ounce once product starts becoming available?

Dan: $250-400 is the estimated initial expected cost per ounce.

Ali: The early stages of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program are likely to see a wide range of prices and substantial fluctuations as early supply and demand features work themselves out. It is almost certain that initial prices will be above those currently found on the illegal market, if not substantially so, but how the industry will react to the patient demand is uncertain.

The Illinois program is a pilot program that currently expires in 2017, and lawmakers must renew or extend the program at that time. What do you think lawmakers will be considering when deciding to renew or extend the program when the time comes?

Dan: They will be examining any instances of diversion, shenanigans, positive health experiences for patients, jobs created, who is the next President of the United States, how much revenue the program is creating, and probably what the overall public opinion of the program is.

Ali: We expect that by early 2017 the local and national landscape on cannabis policy reform will have continued to progress to the point that we won’t be debating whether or not to extend the pilot program but rather how and when to transition to a full tax-and-regulate framework and how to incorporate medical cannabis patients into it.

Don’t miss your chance to meet the people shaping the landscape of medical marijuana in Illinois. Register online for our upcoming Illinois Member Reception! If you have additional questions about the event please contact us at events@thecannabisindustry.org.

Illinois Cannabis Professionals Network in Chicago

More than 50 representatives from National Cannabis Industry Association member businesses gathered at Chicago’s Fado Irish Pub on the evening of September 16 to connect with each other and learn more about the work their association is doing on their behalf.

Attendees hear from Aaron Smith and Dan Linn about the work of NCIA and its state affiliate, ILCIA.
Attendees hear from Aaron Smith and Dan Linn about the work of NCIA and its state affiliate, ILCIA.

The event was timed just six days before the application deadline for businesses looking to open a medical cannabis dispensary or cultivation center. Illinois’s medical marijuana program was authorized by a pilot program approved by the legislature last year. The law allows for up to 22 cultivation centers and 60 medical cannabis dispensaries in the state.

NCIA executive director Aaron Smith and Dan Linn of the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association (ILCIA) spoke about the advocacy work each group is doing in Washington, DC and Springfield, IL, respectively. ILCIA is a newly-formed NCIA state affiliate that works to advance the industry’s political interests in Illinois through advocacy and the establishment of best practices.

Illinois Cannabis Industry Association board members Mark Passerini (left) and Lori Ferrara (right) pose during the Tuesday evening member reception.
Illinois Cannabis Industry Association board members Mark Passerini (left) and Lori Ferrara (right) pose during the Tuesday evening member reception.

The event was generously sponsored by NCIA members Alternative Garden Supply, Quantum 9, CFO Worldwide420 InvestorsMJ Freeway, and the ArcView Group. Check in to our events page frequently to find out about upcoming events in your community.

 

Inside the Illinois Medical Marijuana Program with the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association

The Illinois Cannabis Industry Association (ILCIA) is the official Illinois affiliate of NCIA. In advance of NCIA’s Illinois Member Reception and Federal Policy Update on Tuesday, Sept. 16, in Chicago, two of ILCIA’s board members – Dan Linn and Ali Nagib – talked with us about the latest developments for the Illinois medical marijuana pilot program.

ilcia_logo

The number of licenses for cultivation centers and dispensaries are quite limited – only 22 available for cultivation centers and 60 for dispensaries. What are officials with the Illinois Department of Agriculture looking at in applications to determine who will be awarded a license? Is there a chance to earn bonus points in any category?

Dan: The Department of Agriculture will be grading on a number of different features but the grow plan and horticultural experience will be heavily weighted in the scoring. In the event of a tie between competing applications for a single license the application with the higher scored grow plan will be awarded the license.

Ali: The main required categories don’t have specific bonus points available, but each application has an entire Bonus Section of areas that are not required but available for applicants to gain additional points if the required sections meet a certain score threshold.  The Bonus Section areas include Labor and Employment Practices, a Research Plan, a Community Benefits Plan, a Substance Abuse Prevention Plan, a Local Community/Neighborhood Report, an Environmental Plan as well as additional points for Illinois-based applicants and businesses that are minority-owned, female-owned, veteran-owned, or owned by a person with a disability.

Dan-Linn-Picture-193x250
Dan Linn, ILCIA

State officials are making security a high priority for all applications. What kind of standards must applicants meet in their business plan regarding security measures? 

Dan: Applicants will need to have full seed-to-sale inventory tracking accessible in real time by the Illinois State Police.  Security measures will need to include listings of where the bulletproof glass is on the floor diagram of the dispensary, the camera field of vision, the proper-sized televisions to monitor the cameras, as well as background checks on everyone involved in the program.

What is the climate regarding banking access in Illinois? Have any banks come out to say they will allow cannabis businesses to open bank accounts?

Dan: Some banks are just unwilling to work with the cannabis industry. None have publicly come out as being willing to engage this industry, but there are a number of smaller community banks that are handling accounts for cannabis businesses in Illinois.

September 22 is the deadline for submitting applications to open a cultivation center or dispensary. What does the timeline look like for when licenses will be awarded and when is it expected that dispensaries will actually be selling product?

Ali: Recent public reports indicate that licenses will likely be issued later in the fall, probably in November or December. Based on that timeline dispensaries should be open with product on the shelves for patients in late spring/early summer of 2015.

How many expected applications for cultivation centers and dispensaries will be submitted by the September 22 deadline?

Ali: It is likely that there will be an average of at least a few applicants for each of the 82 available licenses, with total applicants numbering anywhere from 250-600.

Applications also just opened for qualifying medical patients to apply for access to medical marijuana. What is the timeline for qualifying patients to apply and when will patients find out if they are accepted into the program?

Ali: Patients with last names beginning A-L can apply now through Oct 31. Patients with last names beginning M-Z can apply Nov. 1-Dec. 31 and beginning Jan. 1 there will be open year-round enrollment for all patients. The state has 30 days by law to process a patient application, plus 14 days to mail it. This means that patients should expect to receive their approval or denial within 45 days of submission.

What are some of the regulations regarding edibles and other infused products?

Ali Nagib
Ali Nagib, ILCIA

Ali: Edibles and other infused products can be produced, but only those that can be kept at room temperature safely; products that require hot-holding or refrigeration are prohibited. Otherwise a wide range of infused products can be produced, and the state regulations have some fairly specific guidelines on the some of the production processes (e.g. which solvents can be used to produce concentrates) in addition to robust testing and labeling requirements.

Dan: Additionally, edibles and infused products must be produced in a sanitary kitchen and cannot look like candy or any name-brand food items.

What is the anticipated cost per ounce once product starts becoming available?

Dan: $250-400 is the estimated initial expected cost per ounce.

Ali: The early stages of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program are likely to see a wide range of prices and substantial fluctuations as early supply and demand features work themselves out. It is almost certain that initial prices will be above those currently found on the illegal market, if not substantially so, but how the industry will react to the patient demand is uncertain.

The Illinois program is a pilot program that currently expires in 2017, and lawmakers must renew or extend the program at that time. What do you think lawmakers will be considering when deciding to renew or extend the program when the time comes?

Dan: They will be examining any instances of diversion, shenanigans, positive health experiences for patients, jobs created, who is the next President of the United States, how much revenue the program is creating, and probably what the overall public opinion of the program is.

Ali: We expect that by early 2017 the local and national landscape on cannabis policy reform will have continued to progress to the point that we won’t be debating whether or not to extend the pilot program but rather how and when to transition to a full tax-and-regulate framework and how to incorporate medical cannabis patients into it.

Don’t miss your chance to meet the people shaping the landscape of medical marijuana in Illinois. Register online for our upcoming Illinois Member Reception! If you have additional questions about the event please contact us at events@thecannabisindustry.org.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Program Accepting Applications

IllinoisAfter months of planning, the state of Illinois has officially begun accepting applications from potential medical marijuana patients and business owners for its Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

On Tuesday, September 2, Illinois officials began processing paperwork from potential patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L. By the end of the first week, according to the Chicago Sun-Timesmore than 2,000 applications had been received. (Patients with names beginning with the letters M through Z will be eligible to apply beginning November 1.)

The pilot program’s coordinator, Bob Morgan, expressed excitement over the large number of patient applications in the very early days of the process. “It’s a strong indication of the interest in the program,” he told the Sun-Times.

The dispensary and cultivation licensing process promises to be a bit more challenging. With only 22 licenses available for cultivation centers and 60 for dispensaries, competition will likely be stiff, especially for the large Chicago market. (See this interactive graphic from the Chicago Daily Herald for more details on where the 60 dispensary licenses will be allocated.) The application process is extensive, and the capital requirements for applicants are steep. Even successful applicants will have to consider the “pilot” nature of the program, which includes the possibility that it could sunset after a few years.

As Troy Dayton, CEO of NCIA Sustaining Member The Arcview Group, told Chicago’s WBEZ Radio, “[Business owners] had better have a lot of money in the bank because it may be a long ramp up before they can make their businesses profitable.”

Despite these challenges, medical marijuana is coming to Illinois, and with it comes opportunity. Soon, the fifth-largest state in the nation will offer patients the potentially life-changing choice to access medical marijuana, and that’s progress to celebrate.

Are you applying for a dispensary or cultivation license in Illinois? Share your experience in the comment section below.

Illinois pot stores may just accept cash | The Herald & Review (IL)

SPRINGFIELD – Even after the state implements rules for the sale of medical marijuana, federal banking regulations could make Illinois’ budding cannabis industry a cash-only operation.

While Illinois already has moved to legalize the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions, federal regulations prevent marijuana dispensaries and related businesses from using federally insured banks.

“What it means for a lot of businesses is that they’re forced to operate entirely in cash,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association in Washington, D.C. “That’s not just the sales side. It also affects the business side.”

Read more: Illinois pot stores may just accept cash | Herald & Review (IL)

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