Equity Member Spotlight: Osbert Orduña – The Cannabis Place

NCIA’s editorial department continues the Member Spotlight series by highlighting our Social Equity Scholarship Recipients as part of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program. Participants are gaining first-hand access to regulators in key markets to get insight on the industry, tips for raising capital, and advice on how to access and utilize data to ensure success in their businesses, along with all the other benefits available to NCIA members. 

Tell us a bit about you, your background, and why you launched your company.

I am a first-generation Latino of Colombian descent, Spanish was my first language and my dad spent most of my youth incarcerated. I grew up in NYC Public Housing projects, and I have first-hand knowledge of the indignity of what it feels like to personally be stopped and frisked nearly 100 times which is what happened to me as a kid and young adult for doing nothing else than being a poor Latino growing up in the hood. I was an Education Opportunity Fund scholar and the first in my family to go to college, where I received a degree in business, and a graduate certificate in law. I earned the designation of Disabled Veteran while serving in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps, and I am also a 9/11 first responder. I retired after a career in public service, and have worked as an entrepreneur for over 10 years, and know what it takes to start a business from scratch, without a rich uncle, generational wealth, or rich financial backers. 

In late 2020 and early 2021, I had the opportunity to visit 50 non-MSO recreation and medical dispensaries in five states on the east and west coast. I wanted to learn more about dispensaries and best practices across the industry, but my trip opened my eyes to a different reality. Forty-nine of the dispensaries were owned by white males and one was owned by a white female, not one owner looked like me or shared a similar background. None of these dispensary owners had been stopped and frisked hundreds of times for no other reason than just because they lived in an area with historically high rates of arrests and enforcement from over-policing. Yet they were now engaged in an industry that seemed to exclude us. My trip left me sad but determined to enter the cannabis market so that people who look like me who came from the struggle of the streets, and were collateral damage in the war on drugs could have a chance. I was determined to create a positive example for Latinos and others to follow. 

What unique value does your company offer to the cannabis industry?

The Cannabis Place offers a unique value proposition which is our commitment to launching as a union cannabis dispensary on day one. As of yet, we are the only dispensary in the state of New Jersey and the nation to propose this. By launching our business as a unionized shop we are being a partner to our Jersey City, NJ community. Our value proposition promises that we will be a responsible and proactive member of the community that provides union career opportunities with true living wages that will empower our team members to provide upward mobility for themselves, their families, and the greater community. Furthermore, we are engaged as a Workforce Development partner with Cornell University, the Workforce Development Institute, and Hudson County (NJ) Workforce Development Board. With these partnerships, we will develop standardized training modules that will be utilized to train prospective dispensary workers and provide opportunities for those seeking cannabis careers in this new and emerging industry.

Our mission: To provide high-quality cannabis to clients with a consistent product and first-class service they can trust. To build our brand on the core values of client service and care, while maintaining the highest standards of quality, integrity, and community outreach.

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

As the CEO of The Cannabis Place, our primary goal for the greater good of cannabis is to advocate and support a proactive approach to adult-use by providing a local and safe environment to dispense cannabis products. We operate as a social impact cannabis brand and are dedicated to providing consistent access to safe and reliable cannabis products that are ethically grown and sourced. Our aim is to launch the first unionized cannabis dispensary in New Jersey, leading by example, and demonstrating to other businesses that true success is based on placing people over profits. 

Our goals are as follows:

  • Be an accelerator for generational wealth-building opportunities among our employees from the community
  • Be a reliable source for cannabis education and awareness
  • Utilize our Community Impact grants to assist and support outreach in areas that have been disproportionately impacted

Our advocacy at The Cannabis Place is based on workers rights, especially organization, fairness and quality healthcare. We believe that it should be easier for people in all job fields to organize. At The Cannabis Place we support the implementation of legislation that will raise the minimum wage floor for all workers in our community, to provide for true living wages that place people over profits. Workers in all industries deserve more from the moment they are hired. Like many others I grew up as part of the working poor, in public housing with limited minimum wage job opportunities, without healthcare and with minimal alternatives to life on the streets. At The Cannabis Place we believe that by providing our workforce with union careers with true living wages and full benefits, our team members, their families and their communities will feel the immediate difference of financial stability, long-term growth, and the impact of upward financial mobility to help them support their family and to build a better life. 

What kind of challenges do you face in the industry and what solutions would you like to see?

Latinos are consistently underrepresented in terms of business owners throughout all industries. Now when you focus specifically on cannabis and look at a national level, just 5.7% of all license types are held by the Hispanic community. I have seen challenges in the cannabis industry in two key areas, access to capital and the real estate market. It takes money to make money so if you grew up poor, without generational wealth, no rich uncle, no hedge fund connections or oligarchs to call on, how do you raise funds to have the millions that are needed to launch a dispensary or grow? Next and along the same lines is real estate. A lot of landlords won’t lease to cannabis businesses but unfortunately, our experience has been that again a predatory market exists where cannabis rental rates are 2 to 10 times the normal lease rates for the area. The other option is to buy a commercial parcel which brings us back to issue #1 – access to capital. I am ever the optimist, and I see the Latino community growing in the legal cannabis industry as entrepreneurs, c-suite members, and as leaders in the industry bringing our unique insight and sabor to the industry while creating opportunities for generational wealth for our community. In order to get there, we need to bridge the gap through social equity grants and loans that can help Hispanic cannabis entrepreneurs raise enough capital to start their business, and receiving financial education is also crucial for Hispanic entrepreneurs in multiple phases of the cannabis business planning timeline.

Why did you join NCIA? What’s the best or most important part about being a member through the Social Equity Scholarship Program?

We are a Disabled Veteran and Latino-owned company with a core focus on community impact through social impact so the ability to be a Social Equity Scholarship recipient in an organization like the NCIA, a group who are actually dedicated to ensuring that small cannabis businesses have a seat at the table in Washington, D.C. and beyond, was super important to us. We look forward to learning new information and utilizing networking opportunities to help us grow and succeed in the cannabis industry.

The fact that NCIA is leading change to protect the legal cannabis industry, advocate for our state laws, advance federal policy reforms, and to make this a more inclusive and prosperous space by working together to defend the responsible cannabis industry. Creating more opportunities for small businesses rather than just the wealthiest few is the most important thing for us as members of the Social Equity Scholarship Program. 

The Cannabis Place 420 Corp is the first ever Disabled Veteran and Minority Owned Business enterprise to successfully navigate the Jersey City, NJ municipal cannabis dispensary approval process in this new and emerging cannabis market.

Committee Blog: Cannabis Lounges – Coming to a City Near You? 

By Jodi Green, Miller Nash LLP; Shay Gilmore, The Law Office of Shay Aaron Gilmore
Members of NCIA’s Risk Management and Insurance Committee

Although the concept of state-legal cannabis has been around in some shape or form since 1996, cannabis remains illegal to consume in most public places. In other words, legal cannabis consumption remains relegated to back alleys, derailing efforts to “normalize” cannabis use. Tourists visiting popular cities where weed is legal are caught in the unenviable Catch-22 of being able to purchase, but not publically consume, the product. And those who attempt to use cannabis in public still face criminal penalties in some states, with minorities three times more likely to be targeted for arrest, perpetuating racial disparities at a tremendous social cost. 

Enter the cannabis lounge. Cannabis lounges — also known as “consumption lounges,” cannabis cafes, or some variation on that theme — are in simplest terms the cannabis equivalent of a bar or restaurant. Depending on state and local regulations, lounges offer users the chance to congregate in a public place and smoke a joint, try out a $500 gravity bong, or sip on a cannabis drink. With any luck, consumers may enjoy their cannabis with a snack or dinner, but mixing with alcohol is typically not allowed. 

As with any “new” risks, some cities, states, and insurers are… concerned. Despite some obvious tax and social benefits, detractors cite a host of reasons to prevent lounges from coming to a city near you, including at the forefront: fears of public nuisance (odors, theft, and disruption) and overconsumption — especially because most states insulate cannabis cafes from liability for harm caused by obviously intoxicated or underage users, unlike dram shop laws for alcohol.

As another NCIA member recently pointed out, even in states that do allow cannabis cafes, regulatory bodies continue to struggle with how to shape the laws and regulations governing lounges to afford adequate consumer protection while allowing businesses to thrive. Moreover, without a better understanding of the regulatory landscape, some insurers — whose business model hinges on the ability to accurately price a risk — may be unwilling to play in this new cannabis lounge market.

A Sampling of State Approaches to Cannabis Lounges

Alaska led the country in 2019 in licensing on-site consumption. A handful of states and localities have followed Alaska’s guide, and more are anticipated to join this year, including Michigan and New York. We compare a few regulatory schemes below and also consider the impact of dram shop legislation on risks faced by the industry. 


California, governed on the state level by the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, delegates to localities the right to open consumption lounges. Put simply, cities have to affirmatively “opt in” to allow lounges. With a few contingencies — including that patrons must be 21 or older and no alcohol or tobacco can be sold on premises — “a local jurisdiction may allow for the smoking, vaporizing, and ingesting of cannabis or cannabis products on the premises of a” licensed retailer. See BPC § 26200(g)

To date, only a few localities have opted in to allow cannabis lounges, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Palm Springs. West Hollywood, in efforts to create an epicenter for canna-tourism, plans to allow up to 16 lounges within its jurisdiction. Because state law provides little regulatory guidance for lounges, localities generally provide more specific guidance. As an example, West Hollywood’s local municipal code requires security guards on site, as well as within a two-block radius surrounding the business during operation, and allows the sale of cannabis to an individual “in an amount reasonable for onsite consumption.” West Hollywood Municipal Code §5.70.041. Only one lounge is currently open in West Hollywood, the Artist Tree’s Studio Cannabis Lounge, which offers not only lounge access but cannabis yoga, live music, and comedy shows, along with a revolving selection of local art. The Woods, another West Hollywood dispensary with a soon-to-open courtyard lounge space, is also slated to open in 2022. 

Although California law significantly limits third-party liability for alcohol-related accidents, it does not afford cannabis owners the same protection. For example, California Civil Code §1714 explicitly states that furnishing alcohol “is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication,” which has essentially absolved bars, restaurants, party hosts, and most others of potential liability for selling or furnishing alcohol to customers and guests with an exception for liability arising from the furnishing of alcohol to an “obviously intoxicated minor.” See California Business & Professions Code § 25602.1. Without similar protections for cannabis lounges, injured parties could attempt to sue under a negligence theory if a business or employee serves an intoxicated patron who causes harm.


As of January 1, 2020, local jurisdictions in Colorado can opt-in to the state’s cannabis hospitality business license regime (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 44-10-609), and as of March of 2022, the City of Denver has approved cannabis hospitality businesses for operation. Denver operators include the first social equity applicant in Denver approved for a hospitality license, the Tetra Lounge, although from its website Tetra Lounge’s website describes itself as “a private lounge,” requiring a monthly or annual membership fee and a liability waiver to gain access.  

As to dram shop liability, although Colorado law authorizes damages against a licensee for willfully and knowingly selling or serving alcoholic beverages to a visibly intoxicated person, the Colorado Legislature caps liability at $150,000 (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 12-47-801 (3)(II)(c)). This damages cap improves (i.e., reduces) the ISO hazard grade, resulting in the improvement of insurance options available for liquor liability. The legislature has not adopted the same or a similar damages cap on liability for cannabis consumption establishments. 


In June 2021, Nevada’s Governor signed Assembly Bill 341 into law, authorizing the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board (“CCB”) to license and regulate consumption lounges across the state, subject always to local approval. The State plans to issue up to 65 lounge licenses (40-45 for lounges attached to existing dispensaries, 20 for independent lounges) with 10 reserved for social equity applicants. 

Most recently, on June 28, 2022, the CCB voted to unanimously approve a host of regulations for cannabis consumption lounges. Nevada’s extremely detailed state regulations prohibit the sale of “single use cannabis products” with more than 3.5 grams of “usable cannabis” and 10 mg of THC for edibles; prohibit the removal of any cannabis products from a lounge; require a mitigation plan for impaired driving and detailed employee training for overconsumption; and require consumer education and warnings to customers, among other things. As with other states, Nevada allows local jurisdictions to prohibit consumption lounges and to implement more stringent regulations than state law. 

Unlike other states, however, Nevada law carves out protections for cannabis lounge operators just as it does for alcohol. Nevada law already protects businesses that serve or sell alcoholic beverages from injuries inflicted by an intoxicated person. And while any person who knowingly furnishes an alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age is guilty of a misdemeanor, the law provides only for criminal penalties, not civil liability. The Nevada Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to impose responsibility on vendors selling alcohol absent a legislative provision. See Snyder v. Viani, 885 P.2d 610 (Nev. 1994) (holding consumption is the proximate cause of alcohol-related injuries and dismissing the negligence claim against a tavern owner for alcohol service). The same rules will apply to cannabis operators. 


Over two years after full legalization of adult-use commercial cannabis in Illinois, cannabis lounges in Illinois are still relatively rare, with the first Chicago-area marijuana consumption lounge opening on April 20, 2022. Like other states, the State of Illinois does not directly license lounges, but it allows local governments to opt in.

Illinois creates a cause of action against sellers for injury by an intoxicated person. § 235 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/6-21. The standards for liability under the Illinois dram shop law include: (1) sale of alcohol to any person who, while intoxicated, causes injury, and (2) any person owning, renting, leasing, or permitting the occupation of any building or premises with knowledge that alcoholic liquors are to be sold therein, severally or jointly, along with the person selling or giving liquor. In Illinois, the Dram Shop Statute provides the exclusive remedy for alcohol related injuries. See Charles v. Seigfreid, 65 NE.2d. 154 (Ill. 1995). The Statute also provides stringent limitations on recovery of damages. There is no equivalent in Illinois for cannabis entities. 

The Takeaway for Business Entities and Insurance Providers

As with cannabis law generally, lounge operators face a patchwork of state and local regulations that vary tremendously by jurisdiction. In most places, cannabis lounge owners are not protected by dram shop/gram shop laws that otherwise insulate bars and restaurants from liability for overconsumption. This means that companies must be vigilant in protecting themselves from liability by instituting compliance and risk-management procedures. 

In some instances, such as California’s West Hollywood, which has far fewer safeguards and guidelines than Nevada, operators are largely left to their own devices in implementing adequate risk transfer and risk management, compliance, employee training, and consumer education to limit risk of liability. While the West Hollywood municipal code requires lounges to limit cannabis sales of cannabis “in an amount reasonable for onsite consumption,” the “reasonableness” standard is rife with ambiguity and could lead to disputes regarding liability and assumption of risk if a patron overconsumes.  

Evaluating and preventing overconsumption and intoxication will be particularly difficult for cannabis when: patrons have varying experience levels with cannabis; products can be sold in more than a single serving, and no specific consumer education is required. Thus, even in locations that have more stringent regulatory oversight, companies would be wise to consult with experienced counsel and consultants to avoid or limit potential risks associated with regulatory uncertainty, civil liability, and government penalties for non-compliance. 

This brings us full circle to the question of insurance. Even in the states that allow consumption lounges, very few insurance companies provide coverage for on-site consumption (although some do). If an exclusion prohibits coverage, the company may not have coverage for important and sometimes catastrophic events, such as property damage by fire, theft/robbery, cyber events, sexual harassment or discrimination claims by employees or others, and bodily injuries to, or caused by, patrons (on and off premises). 

Most existing property, general liability, products liability, and other insurance policies — including those written for the cannabis industry — expressly exclude coverage for on-site consumption or bodily injury caused by intoxication. In fact, some existing cannabis insurance companies include a “health hazard” exclusion in their policies, which exclude coverage for any bodily injury arising in any way from the use of cannabis, including any health injury. Cannabis insurance policies may also exclude coverage for intentional or illegal acts, which some insurers may try to apply to any claim involving cannabis on the basis that the sale of cannabis violates federal law (the Controlled Substances Act), even if it is state legal. 

For current licensees that are planning to open an attached or adjacent consumption space, current insurance policies may not cover injuries arising in the lounge space. Further, any failure to identify a change in business type could prompt an insurance carrier to deny coverage for subsequent claims based on a theory of misrepresentation. 

In closing, cannabis owners should attempt to negotiate separate and/or broader coverage that carves out coverage for their cannabis-related activities, including on premise consumption, with their current insurer or seek to obtain coverage from a different carrier. Experienced insurance coverage counsel can assist with identifying reputable insurance brokers and negotiating policies that provide such coverage. Because of the limited options, companies would be wise to begin the process of identifying experienced insurance coverage advisors at the beginning of their licensing journey. 




Equity Member Spotlights: Where Are They Now?

Where are they now? This month, NCIA’s editorial department continues the monthly Member Spotlight series by following up with three of our Social Equity Scholarship Recipients as part of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program. Participants are gaining first-hand access to regulators in key markets to get insight on the industry, tips for raising capital, and advice on how to access and utilize data to ensure success in their businesses, along with all the other benefits available to NCIA members.

For reference, previous member spotlights

    1. Equity Member Spotlight: Exspiravit LLC
    2. Equity Member Spotlight: Endo Industries – Nancy Do
    3. Equity Member Spotlight: Next Level Edibles – Anthony Jenkins, CEO

Exspiravit LLC

What’s new in the world of Exspiravit? 

First off, we have rebranded. We are now Cannvas Events. The name change was part of our evolution and maturation as a startup. As we scaled, more resources became available for things like branding. We brought in Greg Hill of Brand Birth to deploy the science of branding and the end result was a new name, new logo, and new understanding of where we were situated in the regulated cannabis ecosystem. The transformation led to the planning and production of our signature Cannabis Event 2.0 offering, the inaugural Saturnalia Canna Carnival, taking place at the Trinity Health Arena in Muskegon, MI on August 2oth. We are powering a traditional indoor/outdoor carnival – rides and attractions included – with a hassle-free, normalizing consumption solution. If you’re in the Midwest, come join us as we celebrate the first year of an iconic, perennial cannabis festival. Tickets and info at cannvasevents.com and follow us @saturnaliacannacarnival

Would you like to share anything that came out of being in the Spotlight previously?

The Spotlight feature presented tremendous value. The first year of the cannabis startup journey is devoid of financial revenue. Unless you’re needle-in-the-haystack lucky, it’s not even a consideration. The money is flowing in the opposite direction. So, the only available revenue, or currency, are the relationships. If you’re fortunate, these become renewable resources upon which you can draw repeatedly, and managed properly, they have no expiration date. You can bank them like any currency and you have much more influence on their stability, than on fiat currency. For me, that one relationship was with Michael Schwamm, who leads the Duane Morris cannabis practice out of New York. Michael opened doors for me and got me into rooms that I was previously unaware existed. That access has made all of the difference for me, personally, and for Cannvas Events. And had it not been for the Spotlight, I would have never been in position to enjoy that access.

Endo Industries

Since the last spotlight, you’ve joined the DEI Committee and its Regulatory Subcommittee. Anything you’d like to share about that experience thus far?

I’m impressed by the brilliant folks on the committee, and their dedication to making cannabis equitable. It takes time out of our grueling work days to contribute time on these committees but the contribution to making the industry better is crucial during these developmental years of cannabis. Perhaps our current misguided, harmful CA cannabis policies could have been prevented with more early participation from stakeholders who are stewards of the plant. However, there were many factors involved with the way CA policies were created, including special interest money from those who don’t care or want to see the industry fail. 

It’s been a painful journey living through the consequences of these challenging policies as a cannabis operator. It takes a long time to change once it’s been passed. However, companies who are willing to work together in these important processes will survive and write a new path to move forward. Most of us can’t wait anymore for things to change so we need everyone’s active participation now, whether it’s writing an email to your constituents or being a part of NCIA!

California cannabis seems to be going through terrible challenges. Is there anything you’d like to share about what you’re seeing, or about some of the solutions our members can support with?

Overburdensome taxes and high barriers to entry for licensing throughout the state are most obvious right now. The lack of diversity and equity, consumer education, state and federal funding for further research and development also play a huge role in CA’s struggles. I’m frustrated that the State doesn’t understand that those who have been dedicated to the industry, collaboration and this plant are the only ones who can truly guide this industry forward.

NCIA members can lend support by truly including legacy, equity, and other diverse teams into your conversations and partnerships, and opening our eyes to value brought to the table by different communities. I would also encourage members to think about ways we can create awareness to our consumers to make better buying decisions. We have left all the medical properties of cannabis while legalizing, and that’s also why the industry is failing. Lastly, we need to keep pushing for more consumption lounges and events!

At Endo Industries, we built our company on principles of collaboration, science, equity and inclusion. Most notably, we offer critical supply chain support through our tissue culture services, and certified virus-free clean clones for growers, breeders and brands. If you know good operators who could benefit from our support, please send them our way. I cannot stress enough that the work Endo is doing is crucial for the success of the supply chain right now.

Would you like to share anything that came out of being in the Spotlight previously?

We’ve gotten great exposure for being featured in Spotlight. Endo and myself are more internet searchable, which in this day in age means we are real people!

People started sharing the link to the Spotlight to use as an introduction to Endo and myself as a founder. We’ve been told by clients who decided to work with us because they came across the feature when researching Endo. It solidified their desire to pick us because we are bullish about our values because our business model is strategic and collaborative. 

It’s great to be co-signed by a credible organization like NCIA, and it goes a long way for a small business that doesn’t have an abundance of marketing and PR resources. I’ve hid in the shadows for far too long. My journey and passion for cannabis needs to be told and celebrated. Endo as a company needs exposure so we can reach a larger audience. I’m grateful for NCIA and look forward to our continued relationship.

Next Level Edibles

What’s new in the world of Next Level Edibles?

There is a lot new in the world of Next Level since our Equity Spotlight in September of 2021. In December, we had a booth, sponsored by the awesome team at The People’s Ecosystem, in Moscone Center at NCIA San Francisco. It was our first time attending an expo, let alone having a booth, and it was a great opportunity to grow our brand while creating relationships for future business opportunities. In the second week of the new year we launched our 1000 mg full spectrum coconut oil in Ivy Hill Oakland. And, later that month, we were welcomed into the Third Cohort of Momentum, Eaze’s Cannabis Business Accelerator. Two weeks before classes began, in early April, we launched our infused fast-acting brown sugar in 7 Star Holistic Healing Center. And in May, we attended MJ Unpacked NYC with other graduates of Our Academy. 

California cannabis seems to be going through terrible challenges. Is there anything you’d like to share about what you’re seeing, or about some of the solutions our members can support with?

California Cannabis is facing challenges on many fronts. Countless unnecessary hurdles to legal entry, political red tape, and excess packaging waste to name a few. But the biggest challenges are around security. Every week there is news of a new dispensary, farm, distributor, and friend being burglarized. High tech security systems, gates, and cameras are no match for organized thieves and slow police responses. Until we can get a portion of our excessive taxes dedicated to funding police divisions that specifically targets cannabis thieves, the best solution to combat this is to support your favorite brands by purchasing their products through legal cannabis retail sources.

Would you like to share anything that came out of being in the Spotlight previously?

Being in the Spotlight helped our company tremendously. It allowed us to grow our cannabis network as plant-touching and ancillary companies reached out from all over the country. In addition, the visibility it provided us helped connect with the team at The People’s Ecosystem which led to our booth at NCIA’s Cannabis Business Summit and our new supply chain partners. It provided the traction we needed to help us get to the next level.

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, July 14, 2022

Committee Blog: Strong Brands Are Led By Strong Employee Development

by NCIA’s Education Committee

Brand drives revenue. Companies – in any industry – with a strong brand are able to sell their product at a premium price over the non-branded (or perhaps generic) products in their market or sector. Think of a few of the household names with strong brands (e.g., Apple, Tide, Chevron, or Peet’s Coffee). These companies have direct competitors but they are able to charge a higher price point because of their brand and the loyalty that comes with a positive brand experience. The companies also draw customers for repeat business every time they are in the market for the product. Loyalty drives repeat business. Revenue increases from investing in your brand far outweigh the costs, and many of those revenue increases are rewarded directly from training and developing employees.

Continuing our theme from a previous blog, investing in your employees has a direct correlation to building a strong brand, which leads to increased profits. Brand for most consumer products is experiential. Your customer has an experience from which they establish their association with your brand – both positive and negative. The experience may start with where the purchase was made, how the employees (e.g., budtenders) explained the product through the experience of using the product, and finally disposing of the product. Each touchpoint creates a personal brand experience and demonstrates the importance of training your employees throughout the sales and use cycles to provide exceptional customer service and education. Some key reasons cannabis employers should invest in their employees with a focus on brand include:

  • Brand drives loyalty, which is derived from the experience your customers have with the product from purchase to disposal. Loyalty drives increased pricing.

  • Developed, well-trained employees have relationships with customers that resonate beyond the transaction. Friends support friends.

  • From seed through product sale, well-educated employees will increase sales volume by gaining the trust of your customer who may need education about your product and its benefits or differentiators from the product’s competitors. Trained employees build trust which leads to increased sales.

  • At the retail level, educated employees will create a better customer experience, and therefore will drive brand loyalty to the dispensary increasing return sales and referral sales. High-traffic retailers have strong brand loyalty, which increases sales of your products on their shelves.

  • Educating employees in retail locations will increase sales volume by cross-selling other products in your brand portfolio.

  • Customers seeking a specific brand will drive dispensaries to seek out and stock those brands.

  • Educated employees will be proud of their employer and its products and therefore go the extra mile to ensure their success and the success of their employer.

A strong company culture of collaboration, employee investment, and thoughtful branding increases your product’s value in a highly competitive market. Customers want to invest, via their purchase power, in businesses that value their employees through a commitment to the personal and professional success of their workers. A company that is able to and focused on enriching its staff is reaping the benefits of flourishing profit margins. The cannabis industry, and general industry as a whole, needs to focus beyond a feast or famine mindset. Investing in your employees builds trust, respect, and loyalty; this can be translated to customers. Building a stable and balanced community of educated employees and happy customers that is sustainable provides repeat sales.

Well-educated and trained employees work as teams, supporting each other and your business. They give back to their employer in many ways both tangible and intangible. For example, they will go out of their way to assist a customer, work a little faster towards the end of the day to get through the line of customers or help to recruit their friends to work at your company, minimizing hiring and onboarding expenses. Invest in your employees, and your teams will succeed. Training doesn’t require extensive budgets. Check here for access to a set of learning tools offered by NCIA. Team members will help each other, not let others fail. They will also drive product recommendations to the products they know (e.g., have been trained on the benefits). Happy employees reward their employer with increased profits by creating a positive brand association to your customers.

NCIA’s Education Committee assists with the design and development of educational programming for NCIA, and helps identify emerging topics in the cannabis space. Learn more about our members here


Equity Member Spotlight: Banyan Tree Dispensary – Adolfo “Ace” Castillo

NCIA’s editorial department continues the Member Spotlight series by highlighting our Social Equity Scholarship Recipients as part of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program. Participants are gaining first-hand access to regulators in key markets to get insight on the industry, tips for raising capital, and advice on how to access and utilize data to ensure success in their businesses, along with all the other benefits available to NCIA members. 

Tell us a bit about you, your background, and why you launched your company.

My name is Adolfo Castillo. People who know me call me Ace. Before I started my first cannabis business, I had a 10-year career in the banking industry. I started in a call center as a customer service associate. I then moved into a traditional banking center where I learned sales and eventually became the assistant manager. It was at the end of my tenure in 2008 that my Tia Eloise was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the request of my mother, she asked me to get some cannabis in hopes that it would help her sister eat. Although it did not cure cancer, it really helped her appetite and gave her a bit of relief. Unfortunately, my Tia Eloise lost that battle, but it was the relief that I was able to provide that helped bring me peace when she passed away. This all happened around the same time that bill SB 420 was signed into California law, establishing statewide guidelines for Prop. 215. This law paved the way for cooperatives and collectives to begin operating legally in my city. It was at that moment that my love for cannabis became a passion. I felt a need to help more people gain access to cannabis, so I partnered with a friend of mine who sold weed and I took what I had learned about business and applied it to opening my first medical cannabis dispensary.

What unique value does your company offer to the cannabis industry?

I named the dispensary Banyan Tree after an experience I had in Maui about 13 years ago. It was my first visit to Maui so I decided not to bring any cannabis products to avoid any problems at the airport. When I arrived, I asked a few locals where I could find some good smoke and they all pointed me to the Banyan Tree. It was true. As soon as I found the Banyan Tree, I could tell this was the place to be. The smell was in the air and I met some really nice Hawaiians who were happy to hook me up. I want our guests to have the same experience when they visit our dispensary. Banyan Tree is a destination. A place where friends can meet to find quality cannabis.

As a local native, I understand the cannabis culture in my town. The legacy market has thrived for so long in Fresno. One of our biggest challenges will be convincing medicinal users and cannabis connoisseurs to buy their cannabis from a licensed facility and not from the streets. In order to create the best experience possible, it starts with a well-trained, knowledgeable staff. I am lucky to have two educators on my team who have helped me put together a robust employee development program that will ensure that the Banyan Tree staff will be primed for success.

My goal for Banyan Tree is to be the #1 dispensary to work for. I truly believe that the success of your business relies heavily on its employees. I want our employees to have purpose and feel proud of the work they do. Banyan Tree was built upon the idea of helping our surrounding community achieve wellness and enjoyment through cannabis. When you come to Banyan Tree, you will not be rushed, you will feel safe, your questions will be answered, and the price you pay will not shock you.

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

I am hopeful that I will see full legalization in my lifetime. As a cannabis business operator, I would like cannabis to be recognized as a normal commodity and not this taboo substance that has so much negativity around it and red tape. As a business owner, I would like cannabis commerce to transact and be accepted without any special rules in regards to banking and filing federal income tax. As outdated stereotypes are finally fading away, more and more consumers view cannabis as an integral part of their health and wellness routine. I’m confident that in 20 years we will look back at the history of cannabis and just laugh at all the nonsensical rules surrounding cannabis in the early 2000s.

What kind of challenges do you face in the industry and what solutions would you like to see?

Most cannabis operations are running all-cash businesses because mainstream, national banking institutions are not willing to support a federally illegal industry. A small number of state-chartered banks and credit unions have offered financial services to compliant operations, but establishing these relationships continues to be a significant challenge for operators. 

An equally frustrating financial challenge is IRS Tax Code 280E, which states that “no deduction or credit shall be allowed in running a business that consists of trafficking a controlled substance.” This archaic code impacts cannabis businesses across the nation, causing unnecessary fiscal and operational stress.

Why did you join NCIA? What’s the best or most important part about being a member through the Social Equity Scholarship Program?

I joined NCIA through the Social Equity Scholarship program to extend my network of cannapreneurs and to help develop best practices and guidelines that will shape the future of our industry. I would say for me, the best part of being a member of NCIA is the synergy. One of my favorite parts of the program is the “Power Hour.” Each week, Mike Lomuto hosts a zoom meeting dedicated to Social Equity members. It is where we have an opportunity to share ideas and find solutions to the issues we all face in our industry. I am very capable, but I recognize that by fostering relationships and collaborating with others in my industry, I can achieve far more than I could ever achieve on my own.


Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, June 30, 2022

NCIA Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

Committee Blog: Employee Recruiting and Retention are Expensive… Training is Not

by NCIA’s Education Committee

Profit margins are tight for every business in the cannabis industry. From plant through product development to retail sales at a dispensary, keeping a keen eye on costs and managing those costs can be the difference between profit and loss in any given month. The concept of investment – in employees, in technology, in building a culture for success – can also be elusive in an environment when private equity wants their multiple and the taxman is always around the corner. However, successful companies invest in their people and successful teams drive revenue growth. This is as true in the cannabis industry as it is in every industry.

Employee expenses, including salary, are significant for every company in the cannabis industry. A line-level employee costs about $4,100 to hire and onboard according to the Society of Human Resource Management. Senior-level leadership is exponentially more expensive.  According to the 2022 Cannabis Industry Salary Guide, “the costs of acquiring and keeping quality team members keep rising fueled by competition for available talent and nationwide salary inflation. Cannabis salaries rose 4% on average in 2021 with compensation for senior executives rising as much as 10%.” Salary is just one component of a successful employee/employer relationship. Hard costs such as benefits as well as soft costs such as culture, training, and long-term development need to be factored into the decision to hire an employee.  

The savvy business owner realizes that hiring is just the first step in developing a successful employment program, and just the beginning of the investments required. Training and developing your employees has significant benefits for your corporation. Business owners will reduce turnover, increase sales, and improve morale – all key components of driving profit – through investing in their employees. Let’s outline a few key benefits of training employees with a specific focus on cost and lost revenue:

  • Every new hire from entry-level to your most senior strategist takes time and distracts your team from completing their most important roles. From interviews through onboarding, employee churn cuts productivity and distracts your entire team from their best and highest use. 
  • Unhappy employees make mistakes, are careless, and create risk, which can lead to legal action (for example, employment and harassment, product or financial theft, trade secrets, and investigations by the DOJ, SEC, and IRS are just a few of the types of litigation a company can possibly expect). Lawyers are expensive, and lawsuits take the attention of leadership away from their focus on generating revenue. Well-trained teams implement processes designed to avoid risk and therefore minimize litigation. 
  • Satisfied employees seek investment from their employer. Investment can be monitory, but it also is training and professional development. When you demonstrate an interest in your team members, they will be happier and your business will grow as they repay that investment through their tangible and intangible efforts. 
  • People want to belong. We are pack animals by nature, and investing in training demonstrates to employees that you want them to grow and stick around – be part of your pack. 
  • Unsatisfied employees may steal or take your trade secrets to your competitors. Employee mobility is a drain on the brain power of your teams, and opens your company’s risk profile in ways you have not imagined.  

Paying competitive salaries may seem like enough to keep a happily employed workforce with your company, but it’s not enough today. Easy employee mobility and the expectations younger generations have of their employer require a more nuanced approach. The risks of not investing in your employees’ future are analogous to buying a car and never changing the oil. Complete engine failure is exponentially more expensive than adhering to the maintenance schedule. Your employee relations are similar. Providing training, development, and growth opportunities may have a short-term cost, but the long-term benefit is that your cannabis company will produce revenue for many years to come.

As the cannabis industry matures, more and more training resources become available to enrich your staff, invest in their professional development, and educate them so they are able to perform at their highest level onsite. As an NCIA member, your company has access to a plethora of blog posts, webinars, podcasts, and in-person events which can be shared with employees. Utilizing these readily available resources will bolster company culture and impress upon workers their value and importance to your business.  

NCIA’s Education Committee assists with the design and development of educational programming for NCIA, and helps identify emerging topics in the cannabis space. Learn more about our members here

Committee Blog: Cannabis and Cancer – Cannabinoids as Cancer Cell Disablers (Part 2)

by Ann Allworth, Ph.D. and Cynthia Shelby-Lane, M.D.
Members of NCIA’s Scientific Advisory Committee

There is abundant anecdotal evidence showing that people can live with cancer for decades after diagnosis. Several books and films describe various alternative approaches to traditional medicines that patients have used to help them heal, many citing the use of cannabis. For example “Weed the People” is an excellent film documenting the cannabis experiences of children with cancer and advocating for the sorely needed research on the healing potential of this powerful plant.  

This blog will explain how cannabis can help our cells and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) components work together to weaken the ability of cancerous cells to survive. Let’s begin with a quick overview of cells and how they work. Cells are the smallest living unit in the body. There are about 200 different types of cells that come in different shapes and sizes, depending on their job. All cells are enclosed by a cell membrane which holds the cell’s contents and houses receptors, structures that allow cells to communicate with each other via ligands. Ligands carry specific messages and include, but are not limited to, neurotransmitters, hormones, growth factors, endocannabinoids, and phytocannabinoids.  They circulate throughout the body in our bodily fluids and bind to specific receptors. Receptors have a binding site with a distinct shape that matches the shape of specific ligands. In other words, each ligand is like a key that fits a lock to “open” the receptor so that the message the ligand carries can be received and transmitted to the cell. 

Receptors and ligands are two of the main components of the ECS. Even though it is called a system itself, the receptors and ligands of the ECS are found in other systems of the human body, such as the neurological, gastrointestinal, and immune systems. This means most cells in the body contain cannabinoid receptors, known as the first cannabinoid receptor, CB1, and the second cannabinoid receptor, CB2. These receptors are activated by cannabinoids our body makes itself, known as endocannabinoids [anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)], cannabinoids made by plants, known as phytocannabinoids, and some enzymes [e.g., fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL)]. 

This is an excellent basic understanding, but the ECS is much more complex. It is incredibly important to human health as its function is to maintain balance throughout the body and it helps to regulate many facets of physiological, behavioral, immunological, and metabolic functions in humans. The vast medicinal value of cannabis comes from the mixture of cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids that interact in some way with the ECS. Although research is still being performed to better explain how the ECS is involved with cancer, it has been demonstrated in animal and cell experiments that cannabis stops a number of vital functions in cancer cells, including proliferation, angiogenesis, and metastasis, and also causes apoptosis of malignant cancerous cells.  

Proliferation is the scientific term for how quickly a cell can divide into two cells. Cancer cells can quickly proliferate because the molecules that regulate how often a cell can divide and create new cells have been disabled. This process allows cancer cells to grow in an uncontrolled fashion and to compete with healthy cells for space and nutrients. Animal and cell studies have shown that the compounds in cannabis can stop cancer cell proliferation in a wide variety of cancer types including breast, lung, prostate, liver, pancreatic, and many others. 

Angiogenesis means the formation of new blood vessels. As cancer cells multiply and form large clumps, they secrete chemicals, many of which are ligands, that bind to receptors on cells in the tumor microenvironment. These cells receive the messages and begin building blood vessels. The newly formed blood vessels guarantee the growing clump of cancer cells will be fed all the nutrients and oxygen it needs to survive and flourish. A growing number of studies demonstrate that cannabis can inhibit angiogenesis in experimental cancer models. 

Metastasis occurs when cancer cells spread to another part of the body other than where the cancer began. Cancer cells physically extend into the normal cells in their microenvironment, or they can pass through the walls of nearby blood or lymph vessels to get to distant locations. When they stop moving, they secrete messages that direct angiogenesis. Metastasis is a feature of more advanced cancer stages, such as stage 4 cancer. Experimental data shows that cannabis can hinder metastasis. 

Apoptosis is a form of programmed cell death. Apoptosis is a process that cells perform if specific genes are turned on. The cell then goes through a series of steps that end in its death. Cannabis has been shown to induce apoptosis, which is an excellent fate for a cancer cell. Although the experimental data here is predominantly from animal and cell cancer models, it is likely that these critical cellular processes are happening when cancer patients improve using cannabis. 

Hopefully soon, more research will help scientists elucidate the exact mechanisms by which patients experience relief using cannabis!  

Ann Allworth Ph.D. is founder and CEO of Cannabis Education Solutions. In her first year of undergrad, Ann Allworth Ph.D. developed a great interest in embryology while taking Anatomy & Physiology. After graduating, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program in cell biology and studied mammalian eggs and embryos. For several years after completing the program, she continued this research at Tufts University Health Sciences Center while working as a Gross Anatomy instructor. Next, Ann worked as an assistant professor at Howard University College of Medicine, continued teaching Gross Anatomy and began studying breast and ovarian cancer cells.   

After 19 years in medical academia, Ann did a 180 and moved on to the natural product industry, where she learned there were many alternatives to pharmaceuticals to achieving health. And among other topics,  taught the immense value phytonutrient rich foods and herbs have to optimal health and well-being for almost 15 years. Upon learning of the existence of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in March 2019 she was shocked she had never heard of it, but she is far from alone. The general public is for the most part clueless about the ECS and the medical establishment by and large ignores its existence. So, she decided to create a company dedicated to illuminating minds to the expansive nature of the ECS and its unparalleled importance to human health. 

Cynthia Shelby-Lane, MD, is an emergency physician, board-certified in anti-aging and functional medicine, and a certified Marijuana Doctor practicing medicine in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Shelby-Lane has certified more than 10,000 medical cannabis patients in the State of Michigan. She coaches patients on their use of cannabis in conjunction with their current medications and medical conditions. She has been a member of NCIA and the Scientific Advisory Committee for the past five years, in addition to membership in multiple cannabis associations and organizations. She speaks at conferences/webinars and in the community on the use and benefits of cannabis and the evolving landscape of cannabis research. Dr. Shelby-lane has worked closely with the Last Prisoner Project.

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, June 16, 2022

NCIA Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

Happy Juneteenth, Happy PRIDE!

Register now for NCIA’s Colorado Industry Social on July 28!


Committee Blog: Announcing The NCIA Best of 420 Clio Cannabis Award

The Clio Cannabis Awards, September 29, 2022 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand


During the winter of 2021, when vaccines were not yet widely available, and many people were still in lockdown, the NCIA Marketing and Advertising Committee was determined to shine a light on those in our community who were fueling opportunity and growth during a difficult time for many businesses. 

MAC Chair Kary Radestock of Hippo Packaging assembled a subcommittee tasked to amplify top member marketing efforts and thus the Best of 420 Award program was born. The 2021 event received dozens of submissions from all over the U.S. across all business sectors and budget sizes and was conducted and presented virtually. See last year’s winners here

For 2022, NCIA and the Marketing and Advertising Committee are bringing it back and this year, it’s going to hit differently. 

Through the guidance of our subcommittee co-chaired by Melinda Adamec of Gabriel Marketing and myself, Tara Coomans of Avaans Media, we’ve also enlisted Michael Kauffman of the Clio Awards, Angela Wong of The People’s Ecosystem, and Vanessa Valdovinos of Hush Chicago to provide support to this year’s process and expand this award. 

The winning honoree will be presented live at the 2022 Clio Cannabis Awards to be held on September 29th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

What’s Staying The Same:

NCIA invites all cannabis companies and brands, both B2B and B2C to submit their 420 campaigns—NCIA membership is not required. Budgets of all sizes and companies of all types, B2B and B2C, are encouraged to apply. 

It’s still FREE

A jury of NCIA members and peers who will evaluate submissions and recognize the top entry. 

What’s Changing: 

Winners: There will be one winner and this winner will be chosen based on three criteria. 

Judging Criteria

Criteria: Judges will evaluate entrants in three ways: Community Impact, Creativity, and Results. 

Community Impact: How did your campaign bring your community together? How did it highlight the best of the cannabis community to others? Did it support an advocacy campaign such as DEI, sustainability?

The cannabis industry is showing the world how an industry-aligned can create positive change. How does your campaign positively impact either the cannabis industry, your customers, the environment, underserved or unrecognized cannabis users, or businesses?

Creativity: How creative was your overall 420 campaign? How creative are you in getting out your message and implementing the campaign?

Results: Was it an effective campaign by your own goals and KPIs?

This category is one of the most important because our judges will judge the results based on your goals. Regardless of budget size or market size, show us your results. Results are those KPIs that are important to YOU. Make sure you grab those baselines so we can see your progress!


Selected from a diverse slate of NCIA members, including past winners and NCIA committee members from a cross-section of perspectives, including the Sustainability Committee, the Diversity and Equity Committee and the Marketing and Advertising Committee. 

Submission Process and Deadline 

Submit your company’s campaign today by following the link below! Act fast as entries will be collected over the following six weeks, with a deadline to submit by Friday, Jul 22, 2022.

Good luck to everyone and have a fantastic 420! Submissions are being accepted now! We look forward to seeing your exceptional campaigns! 





Event Partner

About Clio
Clio is the premier international awards competition for the creative business. Founded in 1959 to celebrate creative excellence in advertising, Clio today honors the work and talent at the forefront of the industry in a variety of specialized fields, including: sports, fashion, music, entertainment, cannabis, and health. As a leading authority on the diverse and ever-changing creative landscape, Clio celebrates creativity 365-days-a-year via its global ad database Ads of The World and its content platform Muse by Clio.

About Clio Cannabis
Expanding on Clio’s enduring reputation for establishing best-in-class programs honoring creative ideas in a variety of specialized verticals, Clio Cannabis celebrates the creators at the forefront of cannabis marketing and communications. Launched in 2019, Clio Cannabis sets the bar for creative work in a rapidly growing industry, builds a greater understanding of a developing category, and elevates creative contributions from top talent and agencies.

Media Partner


For hints and tips on winning award programs, with hints and tips from the entire Marketing and Advertising Committee, listen to the replay of our recent webinar: 

Committee Blog: Do’s and Don’ts of Cannabis Influencer Marketing on Social Media

By NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee,
Helen Mac Murray, Mac Murray & Shuster LLP, and Dan Serard, Cannabis Creative Group

The requirements and restrictions surrounding paid advertising on social media are hardly a secret. Cannabis businesses have to tread carefully to avoid getting shut down or banned completely from online platforms.

However, there is one popular way to leverage the power of social media without risking your account: Influencer Marketing

An influencer is any public figure, celebrity, creator, or individual that has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with the audience. Influencers are typically content creators that actively engage in a select niche online, such as Lifestyle, Fashion, and even Cannabis.

Influencer marketing is a fantastic way for cannabis brands and dispensaries to leverage the power of social media without getting tangled up in the mess of rules and regulations. However, that doesn’t mean there are no rules and regulations for influencer marketing. 

Here are some do’s and don’ts of cannabis influencer marketing on social media:

DO select your influencer partners carefully.

Marketers and business owners can be quick to forget that influencers are not just marketing tools, but rather, people as well. In that regard, influencers are their own brand. Their entire digital presence is curated carefully to align with their unique values and interests.

This means that when cannabis brands are interested in working with influencers, they have to be extremely careful who they choose. Not only does their character reflect on your brand, but also because it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.

Therefore, focus on building meaningful relationships with influencers and popular creators. Add value to their community and don’t view them as a tool in the toolkit. When you manage these relationships the right way, you turn one-time influencers into long-time brand ambassadors.

If you are partnering with someone who will be making claims about your brand or promoting your product in any way, be sure to:

  • Examine their credentials
  • Make sure they actually use and love your product
  • Evaluate whether their values align with your brand’s values
  • Check that their engaged audience is your target audience

One of the biggest benefits of influencer marketing across industries is that it is a relatable way to sell products. If your influencer partners or brand ambassadors do not actually use and love your product, the partnership will lose its value. Both your brand and the influencer will lose credibility.

When selecting influencers to partner with on campaigns, take time to do your research. Observe their regular social media activity as a follower, be patient during the agreement phase, and understand that this is a long-term partnership. 

DON’T run or re-run any paid influencer ads without consent.

After the Borat debacle in Massachusetts, cannabis brands have (rightfully) become paranoid about using influencers or celebrities in their marketing campaigns. 

While memes on social media are perfectly fair game, a disclaimer or two never hurt anybody if you want to cover your tracks. However, paid ads are a completely different ball game.

For those who are wondering what you can and can’t do when it comes to using a celebrity or cannabis influencer’s image or likeness, here’s a general rule to keep in mind: Do not run or re-run any paid advertising with a public figure without express legal consent. 

When it comes to influencers, this means you need to be very specific on the terms of your engagement. For instance, if you are simply looking for a one-time product endorsement on their own channels, you can share these assets from their account to yours. However, you are not allowed to take those assets and use them in future campaigns, especially paid ones, unless you have explicit permission from the influencer. 

In other words, if you want to be able to run any cannabis advertising campaigns with partner content, be sure to let the influencer know during the agreement phase, and prepare your budget accordingly.

DO make sure your influencer partners disclose your relationship with their audience.

Disclaimers are extremely important on social media and other marketing platforms when working with influencers. They provide your audience with transparency and protect all parties from any legal backlash. 

If you have any relationship with a cannabis influencer of any kind (celebrities, bloggers, etc.), make sure they disclose that to their own audience when engaging in formal partner campaigns with your brand. 

These disclosures should be clear and unambiguous and made directly within the endorsement content. Some ways they can do this are by:

  • Using a descriptor in the caption or image, like #ad
  • Disclosing any paid travel, stay, or product exchanges
  • Add disclaimers in both the text and the media

Disclosing material connections with a brand is an important requirement for influencers, but brands are also liable for influencer posts that violate the law. You never want your cannabis brand to be associated with anyone that might find themselves in hot water, so be sure to make these terms clear when partnering with influencers.

DON’T run ads without proving your product claims.   

This may go without saying, but when it comes to paid advertising in cannabis, throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks isn’t really a good idea. When you’re running ads – whether it is on a traditional medium, like a billboard, or a digital medium, such as pay-per-click ads – it is important to do your due diligence.

Don’t wait to prove your product claims until after the ads have run. Not only will this get you in trouble with the FTC, but you will appear deceitful to your customers and quickly lose their trust. 

Instead, ensure you have third-party lab testing, credible experts (like cannabis doctors or budtenders) able to speak to your specific product, and/or the receipts to back up your claims if challenged. 

DO be cautious when using consumer testimonials about your product.

Existing customers are the best marketers for your brand. Using reviews to show social proof of your product is a great idea. In fact, any cannabis marketing professional will tell you that it is encouraged to show off testimonials on social media, websites, email lists, and more.

However, do be cautious when using these testimonials to sell your product.

Only use the words of your customers if you have express permission to use them on other channels, or if they are already posted in public forums, such as Google Reviews. 

It is also highly recommended that you only use testimonials if they reflect the results of most of your customers. You can’t use consumer testimonials if you do not have substantiation that the endorser’s experience is representative of what consumers will generally achieve unless the advertisement clearly and conspicuously discloses the generally expected performance in the depicted circumstances, and the advertiser must possess and rely on adequate substantiation for that representation.

While it’s always helpful to highlight benefits that real people have experienced, disclaimers should always be made if anything sounds too close to a health claim. For instance, if a customer comments on an Instagram post that your product has made their anxiety disappear, you’ll want to gain express permission from them to use their words as a testimonial, and you should add a note when posting that such claims one customer’s unique experience and can’t be interpreted as medical advice. 

DON’T bring on a marketing company only for damage control.

Cannabis marketing agencies are a powerful tool for a brand or dispensary. From social media and email marketing to search engine optimization, branding, website design and development, and more, these companies are experts at crafting a digital presence for your business.

However, good marketing only goes so far. Even the best cannabis marketing professional or influencer can’t cover up for false information, a bad product, poor customer service, or just bad business overall. 

Additionally, even when marketing companies have industry-specific expertise, they are not lawyers. As a brand, ​​you can’t rely on your agency to know the exact letter of the law. 

Instead of using social media or your marketing efforts as damage control, be intentional about building a high-value brand and bringing on a marketing agency that can make you stand out from the crowd in good conscience. 

That means, start from the ground up, provide accurate information, and protect yourself and your brand from any liability by being cautious of any cannabis advertising and marketing rules and regulations.

Using cannabis influencers for your social media marketing campaigns

Developing a strong presence on social media isn’t just impressive, it’s important for your audience and potential customers to buy into your brand. Whether it’s paid or organic, influencer marketing is a great workaround to some of the more harsh realities of social media rules and regulations for cannabis brands and dispensaries. 

When you harness the power of these public figures and their engaged communities online, you can take your brand to new heights.

Committee Blog: Everything You Wanted to Know About Cannabis Facilities but Were Afraid to Ask Field Guide – Part 4 – Retail

by NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee
Jacques Santucci, Brian Anderson, David Vaillencourt, and David Dixon

Continuing our five-part series on the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal cannabis industry. This series focuses on all of the inner dealings and industry advice from established professionals to craft this unlimited How-to-Guide to assist you in setting up your own facility. These articles cover cultivation, extraction, infused products, and retail facilities as well as support activities. In general, remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations and contact a licensed contractor and industry expert. 

Part Four, Retail & Dispensaries: Top Things to Consider When Planning Your Cannabis Dispensary and Retail Operations

Retail and dispensary design presents challenges that are distinct from the other areas of cannabis production and manufacturing. The biggest difference is that the design must now account for customers as well as employees. Listed below are a number of issues that an operator should consider as they are in the process of designing their retail or dispensary operations. Always remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations. 

Security Camera: Minimum Area of Coverage

Most states require a hundred percent minimum security coverage in any area where marijuana products are stored, displayed, or sold. Designing a camera system and placements to avoid “dead spots’ ‘ (i.e. areas with no camera coverage) can be challenging, especially if the operation is taking over an existing space, as opposed to building a new facility from scratch. 

Bonus Consideration: Think about having an HVAC system specially dedicated to your security room. Security rooms for video monitoring and storage can sometimes be an afterthought. But these locations should be treated more like computer server rooms as opposed to standard office space. And with the amount of technology placed in a (typically) small space, things can overheat rather quickly. This can lead to damage to the system and ultimately, you could be out of compliance for video storage and retention.

Another Bonus Consideration: do not forget about placing security cameras to cover the entrance and exit points to the parking lot. Think about the field of view around doors, especially if the door is near the corner of the building or if there are other obstructions that can block the camera’s view of the area. Multiple cameras may be needed for this critical function. Contact a licensed professional. 

Security Camera: Minimum Data Storage

Video storage and retention requirements for cannabis facilities are fairly stringent. Typical requirements include 90-days of on-site storage and up to five years of off-site storage. Off-site data storage is required for future legal needs. Many states require a minimum video resolution of 1080p. The video storage needs for even a moderately sized facility can amount to petabytes of data. For this reason, many facilities outsource this function at least in some measure. If you do decide to handle this all yourself, you should be sure that you have the technical expertise on your staff to handle this potentially complex technical issue.

Security Alarm: Monitoring

Like it or not, retail cannabis facilities will probably always be targets for crime. Having a security system probably seems like a no-brainer. But simply having an alarm system isn’t typically enough. You will need a system that is actively monitored. This allows the company to initiate actions on your behalf depending on the alarm status (e.g., call the police or fire department in response to a remote alarm). Your alarm should be monitored by at least one reputable company. Redundancy might not be needed, but check to be sure that you are in compliance with local rules and regulations. Talk to your licensed professional.

Security: Line of Sight

Customers should only see the public retail area of the location. Customers should not see the back-of-house operations. There is no need for them to see how business is conducted other than at the sales counter. Similarly, there is no need for customers to be able to view the offices, inventory areas, working areas, employee break room, etc. Keeping these areas private helps to avoid bad actors from learning operational routines that might make it easier for them to exploit.

Safety and Injury Handling

This is an easily overlooked area but can definitely get your dinged upon inspection. Be sure you have the appropriate amount of first aid kits and burn kits onsite as reunited by local regulations. Pay particular attention to the regulations about the placement of these kits as they are sometimes required to be within visual distance of specific rooms within your facility. It can be a hard pill to swallow to not be able to get your operation certificate for forgetting such a simple item, but it happens all too frequently.

Employee Access

Having a non-customer door or access point is a best practice. Non-customer access points are where employees and products are brought into the facility without customer line-of-sight. In some states, this is a requirement so check to be sure your facility is in compliance with laws and regulations. 

Product Delivery

Getting cannabis products into a retail facility is a critical part of the merchandise flow and one of the most vulnerable points for theft. For maximum safety and control, consider the use of an air-lock/man trap/sally port door arrangement. If not possible due to location or architecture, planning for business hours separation and process can keep customers separated from deliveries. 

Employee and Counter Safety

The counters where transactions occur in a cannabis retail setting can pose some risks especially since most facilities are cash-based operations. An open style counter can open up opportunities for theft. Consider a security barrier counter. The idea is to attempt to prevent customers from having access to products, cash, or employees where possible. 

Security: Egress

Customer flow can be somewhat challenging, especially in facilities that have a registration lobby that is physically separated from the retail sales floor. Having separate entry and exit doors for customers can help with the flow of customers. Not a requirement but potentially a good customer experience design.

Customer Environment

Dispensaries and retail locations can be busy places at times. In COVID times, this can be a big issue. But even under non-pandemic circumstances, there may be a need to control the number and spacing of customers for both safety and privacy. Social distancing- the process of limiting the number of customers for the available space within the building- can be enhanced through various design elements. These can range from the use of rope and stanchion barriers, to signage and floor stickers.

Lobby design for restricted access – if access to the sales floor is restricted to registered customers, a secure lobby space should be provided with a separated check-in space and access-controlled doors both for customer entrance and egress.

And do not forget bathroom access for customers. You can have a single facility that is unisex but it should also be ADA compliant.

Environmental Consciousness

Unfortunately, like most other retail spaces, cannabis retail still generates a significant amount of waste. And much of it may be recyclable. Business recycling bins should be provided. 

Energy-saving considerations can also be important for retail facilities. Motion detecting light systems can reduce energy consumption in non-occupied spaces. At the very least, interior lighting switches should be located in the same area for easy use upon space exit. HVAC systems should have an occupied and unoccupied night setback capability. 

Parking Lot

Depending on the total number of employees and customers you anticipate visiting your business at its peak times, you will need to design a minimum number of accessible parking spots. 

If curbside pickup is legally allowed in your area, be sure to map out and reserve spaces exclusively for this activity. It should be close to the exit door where the product will be delivered to the customer. Remember to keep parking spaces for handicapped people and even maybe for motorcycles.

Check Out These Related Articles for More Top Things to Consider When Planning:

Part 1 – Cannabis Cultivation Facilities
Part 2 – Cannabis Extraction Facilities
Part 3 – Cannabis Food Production Facilities
Part 4 –Cannabis Retail & Dispensary Facilities
Part 5 – Cannabis Facility Support Areas

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, June 2, 2022

Happy PRIDE! NCIA Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff.  Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

Make the investment, take the time, and do the work to position yourself for success in the Empire State!

Join us on the “Insights & Influencers: NY Opportunity Tour” coming to Albany, Rochester, and NYC next week!

Equity Member Spotlight: Ontogen Botanicals – Dr. Adrian Adams

NCIA’s editorial department continues the Member Spotlight series by highlighting our Social Equity Scholarship Recipients as part of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program. Participants are gaining first-hand access to regulators in key markets to get insight on the industry, tips for raising capital, and advice on how to access and utilize data to ensure success in their businesses, along with all the other benefits available to NCIA members. 

Tell us a bit about you, your background, and why you launched your company.

Hello, I’m Adrian Adams, EdD. I spent a decade teaching Biology and Chemistry as well as coaching football. I chose to spend several years as a stay-at-home dad (the hardest job by far) and then worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I know many of the physicians in my area. While at dinner one night with a couple of doctors, the conversation revolved around having to combat the misinformation that patients come in with from “Dr. Google.” Minutes later, one doctor asked the others what they were saying to the increasing number of patients who come in asking about cannabis therapy. There was a prolonged silence until another doctor said “I just tell them I don’t know anything about that and to look online.”

Another doctor said, “me too.” The irony within the few-minute span was worthy of a fork drop. The FDA has approved CBD as a medicine. To me, not educating a patient about a legal, safe, and effective treatment option meant they just didn’t have the cannabis knowledge. That also meant more legal, safe, and effective products needed to be made for doctors and their patients. In that moment, Ontogen Botanicals CBD was born.

What unique value does your company offer to the cannabis industry?

We offer reduced costs, which can be a barrier to entry for consumers. And a deep knowledge of the intersection between cannabis and medicine. Physicians are a choke point for the industry that is overlooked. Simply put, doctors are good people. Most of them have simply had zero training on the endocannabinoid system as it was only identified in the 1990s. Ontogen Botanicals believes if they knew better, they’d do better. We offer doctors the information to make an informed decision on the utility of cannabis for their patients. We also offer the ability for doctors to provide legal cannabis products for their patients right in their office as part of a sound treatment plan.

Ontogen provides effective CBD products that are truly full-panel lab tested for safety. We strongly believe in starting at a low dose, which also lowers cost. Using the least medication necessary is part of medical training. Low-dose products work for many people and reduce the cost barrier of entry to try CBD and other cannabis products.

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

We want to increase the healthcare provider and patient knowledge of what this plant can do, as well as provide quality of life-improving products. Now we’re expanding to help the population at large. Medically speaking, cannabis is as good as advertised. The more people use it, the more legitimate the industry becomes.

Cannabis gets a bad rap for being a gateway drug to the opioid crisis. In fact, doctors are beginning to address the pain that often starts and underlies chronic opioid use. You cannot pull opioids and not address the pain that drives many folks back to opioids. Regulated cannabis can reduce pain without the many harmful side effects of opioids – especially unregulated heroin.

With industry growth, and Ontogen Botanicals‘ growth, will come the capital for Ontogen to address the challenges that poverty creates for people who may have much less access to healthcare and prescription drugs to get the medicine they prefer. There is enough money in cannabusiness to use it for social good.

What kind of challenges do you face in the industry and what solutions would you like to see?

A big problem for any small business is finding the right people to do business with. Minority business owners face discrimination and mistrust when trying to do business in general. Now add cannabis to the equation. I’ve been asked for $5K just for the right to open a business checking account.

Groups like NCIA, MCBA, and Minorities for Medical Marijuana help us find each other to do business with as well as bridge the gap between us and traditional business communities like banking for access to capital.

This industry has shown the ability to help remediate the cannabis criminalization harms done to minorities during the war on drugs. Big tobacco and many other industries are already investing and awaiting federal law changes. I fear that once the flood gates open to large companies investing billions of dollars, the feeding frenzy will create an extinction-level event for smaller minority-owned companies. We need federal and state-level legislative dams in place before then to protect minority-owned smaller businesses.

Why did you join NCIA? What’s the best or most important part about being a member through the Social Equity Scholarship Program?

I joined to try to help advocate for social equity and social justice for minorities to have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to start an industry. The best part about the NCIA Social Equity program is that it brings minority entrepreneurs together weekly to support each other. We’ve locked elbows, pick each other up in hard times, and celebrated the good.


Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, May 19, 2022

NCIA Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff.  Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

This week’s episode of NCIA Today is brought to you by Senseon Secure Access.

Committee Blog: Is American Cannabis Still the Wild West? 

by NCIA’s Risk Management and Insurance Committee
Matthew Johnson, Quadscore Insurance Services

Cannabis is America’s riskiest business. 

Cannabis itself is a highly valuable commodity, but cannabis businesses also deal largely in cash – making them a prime target for thieves across the country. Recent headlines have reported a rash of unsolved robberies in the Bay Area and Washington State, not to mention the seizure of cash from Empyreal’s fleet of armored transport vehicles (fortunately, that cash has now been returned by the police). 

This is a national problem, which begs the question… What should cannabis businesses do to stay safe during these trying times?

There are many different means of minimizing the risk faced by your modern cannabis business, but we’re going to focus on the big three today – security, technology, and compliance. Through careful consideration of these three tenets, cannabis businesses can take significant steps to mitigate risk and protect their employees. Appropriate investments can yield tenfold savings in the form of fewer stolen assets, lower insurance premiums, peace of mind, and safer employees. 


Let’s start with the topic that gets the most attention during a crime spree – security. In cannabis, security means a number of things… video cameras, man traps, motion sensors, hardened glass, ID checks, and more. When building or retrofitting a facility for cannabis operations, it is crucially important to consult with security experts like Sapphire Risk Advisory Group or Cannabis Compliant Security Solutions. 

“In many areas, it’s not a question of ‘if’ a cannabis business will be robbed – it’s ‘when,’” cautions Chris Eggers, CEO of Cannabis Compliant Security Solutions. With 13 years of experience as a law enforcement officer in the Bay Area – including several years working as an undercover narcotics officer – Chris is uniquely qualified to address the ongoing issues in Oakland and other areas along the West Coast. “There’s a question of how you navigate and survive an incident, but beyond that, how you ensure that your business will survive too.”

There’s an important distinction between security consultants like CCSS, security integrators, and vendors. To achieve best results, cannabis businesses should work with a security consultant who can identify ways to protect the business – without being tied to commission-based sales contracts or a specific ‘brand’ of security solutions. 


Physical security aside, there are a number of high-tech security tools that can help cannabis business owners protect their operations. For example, let’s take a look at the biggest security company you’ve never heard of – an organization called 3SI Security.

3SI Security began their journey over 50 years ago as the original producer of dye and smoke packs intended to deter bank robbers in the 1970s. Technology has evolved over the years, and so has 3SI’s product offering – now, their GPS tracking tech is ubiquitous throughout banking, pharmaceuticals, luxury retail, and telecommunications.

As VP of Business Development for 3SI, Carlos Casas works to connect cannabis businesses with this tech to protect their assets and employees. “According to a Forbes report from July 2020, an estimated 70% of cannabis businesses are cash-based. This is a staggering statistic which shows the real risk to the industry is on an upward climb.” With the SAFE Banking Act still in the works, savvy business owners have to explore alternative solutions like 3SI’s technology to ensure their business stays safe.

Apart from 3SI, there are a number of technology companies that provide technology to make the cannabis industry a safer place. ADT Security has recently launched a cannabis-focused divison of ADT Commercial to provide critical security technology to cannabis businesses around the country. After spending three years keeping HERBL’s fleet secure on the west coast, Andy Fleet now leads ADT’s efforts to provide security solutions to the cannabis industry. 

According to Andy, “Security planning is critical for any cannabis organization. Take the time to evaluate all the risks within your establishment and build a robust plan that ensures all areas of physical safety and security are considered and protected.” Underscoring the points above, Andy continues, “Working with a licensed, experienced consultant will ensure adherence with all relevant regulations and help keep your employees safe while having technology do the heavy lifting for you.”


Next up, everyone’s favorite topic: compliance. In this sense, we’re not talking about adhering to the myriad regulations imposed on cannabis businesses wherever they operate – but rather, making sure that your operation complies with the protective safeguard requirements in your insurance policy. Non-compliance with or material misrepresentation of your active protective safeguards could result in an uncovered or denied claim – and could even cause problems with your investors. If you’re buying insurance, you want to make sure that your policy will pay out when stuff hits the fan!

Theft Sublimit – Most cannabis insurance policies will only cover theft losses up to a certain ‘sublimit’ depending on the quantity of cash/cannabis being stored, the physical location of the cannabis business, and any relevant losses that the insured business may have sustained due to theft. Make sure that you are comfortable with the sublimit provided and, if you aren’t satisfied, work with your insurance broker to see if you can secure higher limits.

Protective Safeguards – Virtually all cannabis insurance policies carry some warranties around protective safeguards that can impact your coverage in the event of a claim. Make sure to read the Protective Safeguards endorsement and check that all of your security systems are functioning in compliance with these requirements.

Motor Truck Cargo – Similar to the protective safeguards warranty, make sure that you study your policy to ensure that any requisite safeguards are in place. For transportation operations, these safeguards are likely to include vehicular telematics, buddy systems for drivers, GPS tracking, and possibly even an escort vehicle to accompany the transport unit. 

Security guards – When hiring security guards, it is recommended to employ a third-party guard service that carries appropriate limits of insurance. Make sure that your business is listed as an additional insured on their insurance policy to ensure coverage in the event of an altercation at your business!

Financing – Lenders and VC firms will often stipulate that the companies accepting their funds will need to adhere to certain requirements, like securing Directors & Officers insurance for the officers and executive board. Beyond insurance, it’s important to make sure you are actually doing what you promised to do in terms of safeguarding the property and not just so that you may be eligible for coverage, but also so that you are not held liable for losses suffered by third parties, such as lenders and investors. 

Joseph Cioffi, chair of the Insolvency+Finance practice at the Davis+Gilbert law firm in New York advises, “Operators typically make certain representations to investors, lenders, and other capital providers, and undertake certain activities intended to preserve asset and collateral values. The operator is looking at default if it’s in breach of contract, but worse, the operator and its principals could be sued for misrepresentations made in obtaining funding – and be held liable for losses that flow from those misrepresentations.” 


Like an onion, there are many layers to a risk management program for cannabis businesses. Through careful implementation of security measures and protective technology, many businesses will be able to prevent damage to their business with proper planning. In case all security measures fail, a comprehensive insurance policy should be able to help make a business whole again after a claim. Make sure to work with the proper insurance, security, and legal experts when building or restructuring a cannabis operation!


Survey: NCIA Retail Committee Wants To Hear From Cannabis Retail Employees

NCIA’s Retail Committee is looking to gauge what educational material may be the most useful in order to better direct our efforts on content creation for all cannabis retail employees.

We would like to hear from those who are most affected by training and continued education, in hopes of being able to provide tools that will enable all retailers and retail staff to grow and develop.

If you can please share this quick questionnaire to your staff, we would greatly appreciate it!


*All submissions are completely anonymous*

Committee Blog: Social Equity Perspectives on Interstate Commerce – Part 3

by Mark Slaugh, iComply LLC
NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

Previously, in part 1 and part 2 of this series, the DEIC examined the problems inherent in existing social equity programs and the merit for federal social equity in regulating interstate commerce. The DEIC also examined the key components of a proposed framework to address these challenges, how to define social equity federally, and the merit of determining the types and numbers of permits to be issued. 

Sadly, as written currently, all proposed federal bills fail to meet the critical objective of creating as much NEW generational wealth for the most number of those disparaged from participating in the legal cannabis industry because of the socioeconomic impacts of more than 80 years of federal marijuana prohibition and due to the barriers to entry created amid state regulatory regimes.

To conclude this policy framework proposal, the DEIC will look at the key considerations for a federal program to ensure it functions as designed and how this framework can create social equity technical assistance, qualification, and a phased approach of implementation to ensure that social equity operators have ample time to qualify, have adequate funded, and are set up for success with an equal starting line in the new interstate commerce industry.

Qualifying Social Equity Operators –  Federal Technical Assistance Program

It is imperative that any federal social equity framework helps the industry and their new partners, by ensuring permit holders are qualified in both cannabis and business backgrounds, and by helping them bring financing to the table to start a permitted interstate commerce cannabis business that can be as ready, as quickly as possible, to help import, export, and transport cannabis between the States.

To carry out these provisions in the policy, we recommend that amendments to any federal act include:

  • Requiring that qualified social equity interstate commerce permit holders:
    • Have a path to educational qualification (training and development)
    • Can qualify with equivalent experience
    • Can pre-qualify for the SBA’s funding once they obtain education or equivalent experience (funds issued upon state licensing approval)
    • Obtain the majority of initial permits offered for interstate commerce (95%)
  • In alignment with how long and at what percentage the current industry has been dominating the ownership of licenses
    • Entities should have 51% or more verifiable ownership and control by a social equity qualified applicant.
    • Advisory Committee to determine how to verify the 51% social equity ownership
  • Providing social equity qualified permit holders exclusivity for at least 5 years to ensure the qualifying process takes place equitable to the average time in which the industry developed for adult use without considering social equity. 
  • Mandating laboratory testing as national permitting for interstate commerce to work. 
  • Ensure parity amongst states and tribal nations such that tribe-to-tribe trading and interstate trade routes can be protected.
  • Avoiding overly limiting interstate commerce permits, but also giving them value by not making them unlimited either.

    • DEIC suggests 1,500 permits as a starting point divided among the three primary types as a fair balance initially.

These pillars of federal act amendments will proactively resolve interstate commerce concerns that are inherent in descheduling cannabis. Further, pre-qualifying permit holders based on their experience, education, as well as federal financing for their business (contingent on state licensing), will accomplish two primary concerns:

  1. Incentivizes state governments to create social equity licensing regimes that emulate federal efforts
  2. Reduces “predatory” operating agreements that use “token” social equity applicants who do not participate in the business license, contribute little to no financing, and are thereby diluted by existing operators and investors

We believe the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is best to handle collaboration efforts to define this new “Minority Cannabis Business” (MCB) certification program for both program providers on the educational side and for pre-qualifying federal funding for qualified applicants. 

Through this qualification, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and (SBA) would issue an interstate commerce permit to be tied to state licenses, and only then would funding be issued to the applicant by the SBA. All funding issued is contingent on obtaining a state licensed facility or partnership with an existing operator in any given state.

Phased Approach:

We believe it is also important that the amendments clearly lay out a multi-phased approach to the rollout of interstate commerce permitting to ensure those most qualified operators proceed first, and to then qualify others with enough time to do so. Encapsulating the proposed amendments, we envision the following steps to ensure a smooth transition that maximizes the opportunity for social equity applicants to succeed:

  1. Initially, establishing the advisory board for the regulatory agencies and mandates to allow for education providers to apply and be approved to provide the educational qualification to social equity applicants. These education providers may also be prioritized based on social equity and curriculum requirements designed in collaboration with cannabis business experts and diversity, equity, and inclusion advocates in cannabis.
  2. For those who lack the experience in operating an interstate commerce permitted business, but who are impacted by the war on cannabis, approved educational programs are invaluable to overcoming the barriers in not knowing how to operate a regulated cannabis business.
    1. Those with experience may qualify, without the need of an educational provider, and each are evaluated for priority licensing according to the following priority:
      1. Applicants with cannabis and business experience (most qualified)
      2. Applicants with legacy experience but limited regulated business experience
      3. Applicants with business experience but limited cannabis experience
      4. Applicants with little cannabis or business experience (least qualified)
    2. If qualified in both, the applicant goes first and can qualify for SBA funding fastest.
    3. If they have limited experience in cannabis or business, then the applicant can take the coursework to qualify and apply for SBA funding.
  3. During this time, it is also crucial to increase community education efforts so that communities impacted most by the war on cannabis can be made aware of the opportunity to qualify, be trained/educated, and approved, and get access to the information necessary to pursue the opportunity along the above pathways.
  4. Provide an education fund for state and municipal governments to promote the benefits of cannabis social equity, responsibilities, and risks of cannabis.

Access to financing is critical for social equity applicants and must be made available through the qualification process for social equity qualified businesses. Once qualified on education or equivalent experience, the SBA may pre-approve funding for qualified applicants. By achieving these qualifications, applicants have access to *reserved* funding appropriated by the federal act. Pre-approved financing in the form of grants and low-interest business debt instruments that are contingent on successful completion of course requirements and other “qualifying” factors for a Minority Cannabis Business is critical to ensuring success for operators and the federal government. 

These government loans say how one qualifies and is “pre-approved” so that applicants can negotiate with existing industry license holders as valuable partners and receive federal funding contingent on state licensing approval. The idea is to promote partnership and participation between the existing industry and newly established social equity entrepreneurs while ensuring equal opportunity for social equity operators who do not choose to partner with the industry.

Follow Through

To ensure the program functions as designed and that the advisory committee is provided with as much data as possible to improve upon these suggested amendments, the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) recommends a final amendment in the form of a best practices study, along with collected data from participating states, to be instituted and reviewed annually for the first five years and subsequently every three years. 

The intention of this study and report is to ensure the enforcement of laws, standards, and programs and to monitor that the activities of social equity operators are in alignment with the intention of the program in benefitting the social equity entrepreneurs permitted, that policies against predatory operating agreements are being enforced, and that policies are truly beneficial to creating social equity in the cannabis industry. The study will provide evidence of the benefits and challenges of the program, as well as possible improvements at federal and state levels


It seems obvious that unless any social equity partner can “bring more to the table” to balance a “mega player’s” contribution, be educated in all aspects of their chosen field in the industry, recognize predatory agreements, and otherwise be positioned more equally to meaningfully participate in the cannabis industry, social equity programs will continue to fall short of meeting the goal of creating new generational wealth. 

History has shown that as long as there’s an opportunity for inequality to be wielded as a weapon for those in power, it will be. No amount of good intention can change that fact. 

Social equity requires empowerment opportunities for social equity candidates to bring more to the table as equals with “mega players.” We recognize partnerships can be an ideal path forward when the power dynamics within them are balanced and fair. The DEIC proposes these amendments to any federal act to serve as solutions to the traditional problems of inequality, exclusion, and gatekeeping that once spurred prohibition in the first place and that continue to prevail in the inequity the cannabis industry is still experiencing and to solve the shortcomings of social equity programs thus far. 

We recognize that the role for the federal government in these federal act amendments is to even the odds in interstate commerce permitting. Their role is to oversee the fairness in qualifying candidates, to ensure a meaningful value for the permits issued, to give permittees the chance to catch up to the privileged few already in the industry with lockout periods for non-social equity applicants, limited licensing, and to provide access to financing for those traditionally locked out of access to financing or wealth as aa result of systemic oppression caused under prohibition.

Interstate commerce permitting seems like the last true chance for America to atone for 80+ years of marijuana madness and its detriment on our society. It is also the last chance for the industry to search for its soul to balance the impacts prohibition has had on these operators in excluding their participation in legal cannabis initially – born as a result of systemic discrimination overall and colonized on by those with clean records.

In doing so, a more equitable federal act can create the bold ideas and incentive to bring traditional wealth and experience into partnership with underprivileged social equity operators and their expertise/culture to form partnerships that truly represent the intent behind the policies intended for social equity and to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive industry for all.

Committee Blog: Everything You Wanted to Know About Cannabis Facilities But Were Afraid to Ask Field Guide – Part 3 – Extraction

by members of NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee
Jacques Santucci, Brian Anderson, David Vaillencourt, and David Dixon

Continuing our five-part series on the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal cannabis industry. This series focuses on all of the inner dealings and industry advice from established professionals to craft this unlimited How-to-Guide to assist you in setting up your own facility. These articles cover cultivation, extraction, infused products, and retail facilities as well as support activities. In general, remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations and contact a licensed contractor and industry expert. 

Part Three, Food: 10 Things to Consider When Planning Your Manufacturing of Infused Products (MIPs) Operations

Food safety and handling practices are an issue for any industry working with or processing products for human consumption and often come with strict guidelines that need to be followed. In the cannabis industry, edibles and other processed or infused products Manufactured Infused Products (MIPs) are ready-to-eat foods, so many states are regulating them as foods under the cGMP requirements of 21CFR117. We feel this is likely the approach that will be appropriate when cannabis becomes federally legal. These 10 things should be considered as you begin to plan your facility.  Always remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations. 

Sanitary Design and Operation

A production room is straightforward, conceptually: design the space so walls, floors, and ceilings can be washed and sanitized, then verified (ATP swabs) to confirm the cleaning process is effective. To facilitate cleaning, everything needs to be pulled away from the walls, the ceiling needs to be solid and the walls need to be sealed. Insulated metal panels (IMP) are a cavity-free construction that is seeing wide acceptance in the industry. To keep the space clean during operation, slope the floors to spot drains, install coves along with the floor/wall interface and avoid ledges and traps for water or dust.

Employee Hand Washing

A stringent internal process for sanitation and washing of hands is crucial. Make sure that lavatories are available throughout your facility for proper sanitation. Confer with the municipal board of health for locations and quantity. Generally locate any place where employees are handling consumable products or encounter the potential for microbiological. 

Boot Washing

Sanitation includes making sure all boots/shoes are free of contaminants. Employee captive corporate footwear programs prevent contamination potential from non-business-related employee activities.

Cart Washing

For carts that transport ingredients and materials, it is important to prevent floor debris getting transferred from one area to another. Two areas of concern; are wheels and cart shelves. Either wheel or shelf area can be addressed from multiple washing devices specific to each type of cart used.

Product Storage

Food safety temperature and humidity separation of products are an important factor. The purpose is to store food products at such a temperature and humidity level to prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria.

Allergen cross-contamination

Make sure to arrange products to avoid cross-contamination of open and unopened products. Keep the first pallet off the floor at a height of 6” AFF to avoid picking up contaminants. OHSA SHARP may apply how to organize products. 

You can design barriers to keep contamination from entering a room.

Limit contamination by having and always renewing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), since the adjacent hallways may transport raw biomass. Test all ingredients, including THC, to ensure that everything is microbiologically safe. Wipe down, or unpackage ingredients, materials, and supplies before bringing them into the ‘clean environment’ room. Wear specific scrub, clean boots, and wash off any carts entering the room.

Employees entering the food production space

Contaminants can enter via the employees.  It is essential to have all employees and agents clean up before entering the food production space. You must provide facilities to wash and sanitize hands as well as boots. Continuous training of employees and monitoring adherence to the procedures is important. Your procedure will include how sanitation is necessary, where are smocks hung, how are shoes cleaned, etc. Typical controls are in the FDA Food Code for jewelry, open sores, illness, etc.

Food Safety Inherent in the Recipes

Complete a Food Safety Hazard Analysis to know if you need to implement an upstream preventative control, such as for chocolate, or if you need to manage a thermal kill-step such as cooking the gummies mass. Low water activity, high acid, or a natural biocide additive, can all be considered. 

Control for Allergens

MIPS often contain soy, flour, eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, and perhaps others. Each has special considerations for allergen separations and allergen cleaning.

Ware Washing and Clean Parts Storage Room

Don’t Underestimate the Ware Washing and Clean Parts Storage Room. Adjacent to your MIPs production room, consider building a washroom with a commercial dishwasher for utensils, kettles, wetted parts, trays, molds, etc. You might install a three-compartment sink. And make sure to safely store clean items, so they dry and do not get recontaminated prior to use. This room is maintained at negative pressure to the MIPs production room.

Plan for the Pantry

Store ingredients, materials, and supplies in a pantry off the MIPs room can be considered. It is much easier to clean the MIPs room if such items are stored outside production. If you pre-weight, or decant in the pantry, cardboard and plastic are kept out of production. It is a great idea to provide a door also to the adjacent hallway to drop off ingredients, then your staff can enter from the MIPs room. Special care is taken when storing opened products.

Keeping Final Products Food-Safe

The best practice might be to put products such as chocolate bars into primary film envelopes or fin-seal gummies while still in the MIPs room. Often, subsequent packaging is done where there are other possible contaminants such as open bud, pre-rolls, chipboard or corrugated, etc. If the food products are already protected by primary packaging, you will greatly reduce the risk of recontamination. 

HVAC, Humidity Control, and Filtration

HVAC, Humidity Control, and Filtration are critical. The MIP production room should be air-conditioned and filtered to at least MERV 14. Cook kettles may be a source of humidity that could be placed under a commercial hood. Cooling and tempering of chocolates and cooling and drying of gummies/jellies have their own special considerations. And consider provide enough HVAC capacity to dry out the production room after a heavy cleaning. 

Airlocks and Room Pressurization

Airlocks and room pressurization should be planned properly based on your goals, budget and facility. The MIPs room pressure should be positive to all other adjacent rooms: washroom, pantry, extraction, corridors, lab. There are a wide variety of approaches to airlocks, from a pharma approach with air showers down, to just a door with sufficient air supply to the production room to ensure that it is always positive to the adjacent hallway.

Check Out These Related Articles for More Top Things to Consider When Planning:

Part 1 – Cannabis Cultivation Facilities
Part 2 – Cannabis Extraction Facilities
Part 3 – Cannabis Food Production Facilities
Part 4 –Cannabis Retail & Dispensary Facilities
Part 5 – Cannabis Facility Support Areas

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, May 5, 2022

¡Happy Cinco De Mayo! NCIA Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff.  Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

NCIA Today is brought to you this week by Senseon Secure Access.

Committee Blog: Everything You Wanted to Know About Cannabis Facilities But Were Afraid to Ask Field Guide – Part 2 – Extraction Facilities

by members of NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee
Jacques Santucci, Brian Anderson, David Vaillencourt, and David Dixon

Continuing our five-part series on the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal cannabis industry. This series focuses on all of the inner dealings and industry advice from established professionals to craft this unlimited How-to-Guide to assist you in setting up your own facility. These articles cover cultivation, extraction, infused products, and retail facilities as well as support activities. In general, remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations and contact a licensed contractor and industry expert. 

Part Two, Extraction: Top Things to Consider When Planning Your Cannabis Extraction Operation

The extraction environment is akin to an industrial process and should be approached away from a safety and chemical handling standpoint. Here are some general considerations as you begin to plan your extraction operation that we often see assumed or overlooked resulting in major unanticipated barriers that significantly impact decision costs and timelines. Always remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations. 

Interior Building Materials

The walls and floors should be designed to be easily cleanable. In areas with solvent use, should have floors and walls made with the material, and ultimately the method for effective and ease of cleaning such FRP (Fiberglas Reinforced Panels).

Facility Specifications

There are many established standards from organizations like the NFPA and ICC-IFC which are commonly cited and required by Fire Marshalls with appropriate fire engineering controls, room interlocks, etc. Knowing which classifications are required based on the room type has a major impact on facility specifications (e.g. C1D1, C1D2, etc.) and the ultimate design. This requires knowing which solvents you will be using (and equally important, solvents you will not be using) as well as identifying all of the activities you will be doing in your extraction/processing facility (winterization, purification, bulk or final product packaging, and more) and whether the rooms will be wet and dry (how will you be cleaning these rooms?). How you answer those questions will help you and your team select the appropriate room materials and overall design. 

Electrical Power Ideal Recommendations

Evaluate your utility power infrastructure, including street transformers and available power to your site when designing your facility. The power demand for a cannabis facility is significant and grid limitations can destroy or significantly delay the ability for a business to operate.

Losing power due to weather or events outside of your control are another major risk. When considering alternative power generation, consider a generator with auto-transfer switching and the appropriate fuel type, depending on location and local weather. Contact a local licensed professional. A generator can be an invaluable insurance policy as even a short duration power outage can destroy an entire crop and any products that must be maintained at critical temperatures. 

Equipment Rooms and Maintenance Rooms

Appropriate space for equipment and dedicated rooms for maintenance is commonly needed. These all come with different combustion air requirements, venting requirements, air exchange rates, vacuum lines, and more. You may consider a room for spare parts and tools.

Appropriate Storage Area: Biomass, Volatiles, Raw Ingredients, and More

Separation of raw materials with appropriate and dedicated storage areas is needed for the various types of raw ingredients and materials utilized within a cannabis facility. Volatile solvents require extremely specific storage requirements, which will become part of your Chemical Hygiene Plan once you are operational. Refer to your local Fire Marshall for code considerations and from code organizations like the ICC and NFPA.

Cleaning and sanitation agents should be segregated from materials that are utilized in final product formulations (e.i food ingredients, oils, etc.) and raw materials ahead of the design is critical to ensure appropriate storage requirements are met whether indoor or outdoor. Biomass storage can vary based on whether wet or dry and often require controlled temperature and humidity. Finally, do not forget the dedicated space needed for finished good inventory. 

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Safety

Do you know that shock you get when you are in your car in the winter or flipping on a light switch? Innocent in everyday life, but potentially lethal in an environment such as extraction rooms where highly flammable solvents could be present. Consider rated and non-rated clothing and other personal protection measures. 

Food Grade Oil Considerations and Inspections

Extracted oils that will be used downstream in edibles and beverages are akin to ingredients that require Food Safety endorsements such as cGMP.

Equipment Ratings

Before selecting equipment for use, evaluation criteria should be established based on your business needs and compliance. Some authorities having jurisdiction require extraction equipment to come with stamps, certifications, or endorsements from organizations such as ASME, UL, and NFPA as relevant to ensure equipment safety and fit for use.

Room Environmental Controls

Grinding rooms often need separate dedicated ventilation and filtration to be checked against grinding method/equipment and concentration of particulate (typically measured in parts per million (ppm) in the air. Dust collection systems for grinding equipment are effective ways to keep dust levels at manageable levels, reducing the need for time consuming cleaning procedures. Extraction and final product rooms may require additional ventilation considerations and monitoring sensors depending on the extraction method or final product type. Example: Solvents will require sensors and air exchanges located near the ground level since most solvent fumes tend to be heavier than air. 

HVACD Management

Designing your facility involves HVACD (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Dehumidification) management that considers airflow controls areas, airflow, and fire protection within control areas. Rooms may require positive and negative pressures with calibrated pressure indicators. You should aim at having a leveled constant environment.

Safety and Injury Handling

Facilities need to have sufficient accessible First Aid and Burn Kits on site. Safety and Emergency Showers are often determined by code and the type of extraction solvent in use at the locations. Eye wash stations may also be required.

Spill and Solvent Safety

In areas where solvents are or may be used, you will need to have barrier/spill kits specific to the solvents and extraction materials on hand. This barrier can be built in or hand delivered per emergency. Solvent storage locations, depending on the type of solvent and hazardous rating. 

Having one or two dedicated people to run point on spills can be part of a comprehensive spill procedure that would include evacuation of the area, assessment of the spill and of the clean up technique, disposal method, etc. There are many materials that are not compatible or properties that make them volatile under certain circumstances so having dedicated people to evaluate the situation will save you time, money, and any possible mishaps. 

Solvent Storage

Indoor and outdoor solvent storage are dictated by NFPA, ICC-IFC, and local regulations. Storage types and limits are essential to check before buying or building a facility. Fire professionals base these limits on several factors of flammability including class and volatility. You may also need to adhere to SARA Type III reporting depending on the solvent and storage amounts. Do not forget about solvent tank types, whether they need to be mounted or chained to walls, security access controls, and SDS requirements.

Solvent Enclosure

C1D1, C1D2 is needed for solvent use. The actual type of solvents (e.g. CO2, Ethanol, etc.), and volume of solvent will dictate the different requirements for enclosures. This section pertains to areas in which the solvent would be transferred, mixed, extracted, recovered, etc. The type of enclosure is dependent on the type and class of solvent. Most enclosures will have volume limits, containment, vapor detector, electrical and ventilation requirements. 

Emergency Ventilation

Ensure wall switch and fast ventilation, automated ventilation when sensors are activated during spill of contaminate.Sensors to be located where appropriate for the substance in use. Coordinated with the fire marshall to meet local requirements through design with architect and mechanical teams.

Employee Access Control

Limiting door access, proper security labeling, and key sets for employees need to be part of your overall security plan. LThe idea is to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing the extraction space compliant with the local regulatory body. 

Equipment Regulatory Listing

There are requirements such as UL certifications/marks which are dependent on the actual device and intended use. Always contact your local code enforcement office and a licensed contractor.

Check Out These Related Articles for More Top Things to Consider When Planning:

Part 1 – Cannabis Cultivation Facilities
Part 2 – Cannabis Extraction Facilities
Part 3 – Cannabis Food Production Facilities
Part 4 –Cannabis Retail & Dispensary Facilities
Part 5 – Cannabis Facility Support Areas

Committee Blog: Everything You Wanted to Know About Cannabis Facilities But Were Afraid to Ask Field Guide – Part 1 – Cultivation

by members of NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee
Jacques Santucci, Brian Anderson, David Vaillencourt, and David Dixon

Introducing our five-part series on the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal cannabis industry. This series focuses on all of the inner dealings and industry advice from established professionals to craft this unlimited How-to-Guide to assist you in setting up your own facility. These articles cover cultivation, extraction, infused products, and retail facilities as well as support activities. In general, remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations and contact a licensed contractor and industry expert. 

Part 1, Cultivation: The Top Things to Consider When Planning Your Cannabis Cultivation Facilities

As you are planning to start your own indoor cultivation facility, there are some often ignored basic parameters that should be taken into account in the design and decision-making process. We have listed the key parameters that will ease the process of going live and may save time and money while you design your facility and the building process. Always remember to be compliant with all local rules and regulations. 

Lighting Recommendations

Depending on your goals, building setting, and local requirements, you have many options for lighting, from HPS light to LED lights. Lighting standards are measured in watts per square foot. Recommendations may vary per state or other criteria. For example, Massachusetts recommends an intensity of 36w/sft for energy consumption.

Water Recovery: Minimum Percentage

Cannabis is a water-intensive crop, and consideration of effluent capacity can be inefficient, expensive, and an issue for municipalities. Depending on your cultivation practices, you should consider a water recovery system and what percentage you are able to capture. There are two types of water recovery – leachate, and condensate. An effective system will recover at least 70% of the water for utilization, significantly reducing your water and sewer expenses. Your irrigation and fertigation selection will have an impact on your water consumption. 

Generator Capacity: Minimum Recommendations

Your area or your business model may dictate for a generator – which is a critical Business Continuity consideration as a power outage, even if for a brief period of time can destroy a crop. Make sure to calculate the minimum capacity requirements of your facility. Do you plan to have it for emergency or stand-by usage? Typically, 50% of your short lighting load capacity of cultivation, 100% for AHU (air handling), and some back-office and security system, including cameras, access, and server needs.

Carbon Dioxide Enrichment: New Versus Recaptured

You can consider 75% new tanked- or generated- natural gas and 25% recaptured sources, for cultivation rooms, gas-fired chillers, and gas-fired boilers.

Carbon Dioxide Alarms Levels: Cultivation and Common Areas

Carbon Dioxide monitoring is critical for worker safety. You should be monitoring common areas to ensure that you are below 3,500 ppm. Monitoring should be tied to the fire alarm system for building evacuation, with 2,000 ppm alarm levels for the cultivation area. 5000 ppm limits are required by NFPA/OHSA. Alarms should contain visual strobes, red/green room access indicator lights and/or possibly an exhaust system that is triggered by an alarm

Renewable Energy: Minimum Energy Production Percentage

To demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, a minimum target of 10% of your facility’s energy consumption should be from renewable energy production: i.e. solar power, wind energy, geothermal, biomass, and/or battery energy.

Refuse Disposal: Recycling and Composting

Consider certified disposal of horticulture byproducts with a minimum of 25% recycling or composting by volume; rendered unusable. You will want to establish and verify that your shredder or equivalent system is capable of breaking up debris to a specified size. 

Airlock Doors for In-Between Uses

You should install an airlock barrier, or at a minimum an air curtain, between the business and the production side, for outside and inside egresses, to keep a controlled environment. Keep in mind considerations for ventilation systems and cascading airflow. 

Wall Material

For best performance to mitigate biological hazards and contamination, depending on your region, recommend installing insulated metal panels, that are non-porous, solid core wall, insulated metal panels (IMP), with surface mounted devices. 

Security Entrance: Facility Safety

Consider creating a separate mantrap style entrance to allow for better safety at the entrance point, monitor visitors, keep a controlled environment as well as avoid weather-related issues, i.e. wet areas due to rain or snow, or temperature variance due to extreme heat or cold. 

Limiting doors access and key sets for employees needs to be part of your overall security plan, with proper door labeling and authorization levels. The idea is to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing specific spaces, for proper environment control and to be compliant with the local regulatory body. Remember to be compliant with local rules and regulations.

Security Camera: Minimum Area of Coverage

In most states, you will need security coverage for 100% percent of your faculty where cannabis products will be stored or displayed, with proper recording and monitoring. Keep in mind that your security room will likely need its own dedicated HVAC systems

Security Camera: Minimum Data Storage and Resolution

You will need to store all security camera footage on-site for a minimum of 90-days, or more depending on regulations. You may need to store the data offsite for five years for future legal needs. Footage quality may need to be shot in 1080p minimum. An ASTM International Standard Guide for Video Surveillance System provides additional parameters to utilize.

Security Alarm: Monitoring

Security alarm needs to be monitored by a reputable company. A service level agreement (SLA) or similar to ensure there are redundancies in the event of a failure should be considered, and redundancy or a backup system might be necessary.

Odor Control: Exhaust Air Management

Odor mitigation is a crucial part of all operations. All exhaust airflow must be oxidized or ionized. You also need a fogger system and carbon filtration. Refer to local municipal bylaws and regulations for more information.

For interior odor control and non-cultivation areas, consider cascading air flows from non-cultivation areas to provide a common method of control for pressurization control. Plan to control air flow and exhaust. 

Fire Sprinkler: Maximum Bench Sizing

Sprinklers are designed to cover a limited surface area. When installed on cultivation tabletops wider than 48”, additional sprinkler coverage may be required.

Flooring Type: Continuous

Cultivation floors shall have continuous resin or epoxy coating with at least a four-inch lip onto the adjacent wall.

Energy Incentives: Minimum HVAC/D Efficiency Rating

Air Conditioning (AC) units should be no less than 16 SEER, High Point (HP) units no less than 9 HSPF. Incentives for this vary by state. Please check with your local utility company and regulatory commission for all available rebates.

HVAC Validation Requirements: 

Bi-Annual Third Party Controlled Environment Validation using required Trend Data Metrics is the validation and calibration of control sensors, including temperature, humidity, CO2, and other devices such as scales, flow meters, integral valves, PPM sensors, EC meters, TDS meters, HVAC dampers and other applicable devices that may drift from factory or initial installation specifications.

Good Agricultural and Collection or Manufacturing Practices (GACP/GMP): Ready Versus Complaint

Your operation should be designed with documentation to prepare for GACP or GMP requirements. Depending on final product types, specific food-based GMPs with appropriate risk assessment programs (such as HACCP, and others referenced within the Food Safety Modernization Act) will prepare you for any federal or international trade opportunities in a federally legalized framework. 

Employee Locker Access

Plan for gender-specific, male and female locker rooms, with six square feet per employee per shift expected to arrive at the facility at any given time. Employee supplied flock for locker or lock provided by the employer is a business decision. Keep in mind how you will keep the environment of your production facility under control. You might consider having locker access adjacent to the growing area with a proper gowning area. 

Locker Room Type

Make sure your locker room is correctly set up for employees to be able to change in a safe way. Specifications for Locker Room and Gowning/PPE Areas should allow access to faucets for washing hands as well as bathrooms. Note gowning areas should be separate from the bathrooms directly off the locker room area.

Employee Shower Access

Per International Building Code (IBC) and State Plumbing Codes, calculate the number of employees and determine the number of showers based on code requirements as well as business policies. Having gender-specific showers is a recommendation as well as a business decision. 

Emergency Eye Wash- Shower

For safety and based on OSHA standards, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), fertigation, and extraction operations must-have emergency eye wash showers. Eyewash stations need to be placed throughout the facility so that they are within 10-15 seconds walking distance from employees. Check local requirements for additional needs. 

Note: in a facility where corrosives and skin irritants could pose harm to employees and require immediate remediations, you should consider emergency showers.

First Aid Kit Distribution

First aid kits should be available in all rooms where sharp tools and other hazardous materials are intended to be used. These kits need to be within 10-15 seconds of employee walking distances. Per OSHA requirements, first aid kits should be located in all trim, extraction, flower hallway, and shredding areas. This is overall a must-have in your facility.

Safety and Injury Handling

We recommend that you ensure that you have enough first aid and burn kits available throughout your faculty, based on your activity and the number of employees.

Check Out These Related Articles for More Top Things to Consider When Planning:

Part 1 – Cannabis Cultivation Facilities
Part 2 – Cannabis Extraction Facilities
Part 3 – Cannabis Food Production Facilities
Part 4 –Cannabis Retail & Dispensary Facilities
Part 5 – Cannabis Facility Support Areas

Committee Blog: Social Equity Perspectives on Interstate Commerce – Part 2

by Mark Slaugh, iComply LLC
NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

As the debate heats up on “how” rather than “if” cannabis legalization will happen, social equity and comprehensive reform are at the forefront of the minds of national legislators and advocates. Previously, in part 1 of this series, the DEIC examined the problems inherent in existing social equity programs and the merit of federal social equity in regulating interstate commerce. Sadly, as written currently, all proposed federal bills fail to meet the critical objective of creating as much NEW generational wealth as possible for those harmed by the war on drugs. Now, we examine the key components of a proposed framework to address these challenges, how to define social equity federally, and the merit of determining the types and numbers of permits to be issued.

Key Considerations for a Federal Cannabis Social Equity Program:

Fundamentally, any federal act for cannabis legalization should be a social justice bill that deschedules cannabis federally and that creates the most amount of new generational wealth for those most impacted by prohibition. Expungement for all persons with a past criminal record involving cannabis is the bare minimum these bills should do. However, proposed bills so far fall short of the latest innovative solutions to known problems in social equity programs and should be amended to include these key considerations.

Any proposed act must be amended to include provisions on regulating interstate commerce immediately after descheduling. The NCIA’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) believes any federal act must prioritize social equity ownership of interstate commerce permits issued by the federal government. Learning from the municipal and state social equity programs, this policy paper seeks to propose amendments that meet these objectives, by instituting the following amendments to federal legalization bills:

  • Defining the regulatory agency for federal interstate commerce regulation and taxation

    • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) roles and responsibilities
    • Defining number and types of seats for a Federal Cannabis Social Equity advisory board
      • Ensure a diverse and representative Federal Cannabis Social Equity advisory board members, e.g., federal, state, tribal nations, diverse city representation, NCIA, and social equity cannabis owners, and operators.
  • Defining who qualifies as a social equity interstate commerce permit holder:

    • Outlining what states must meet as a minimum standard set by the federal government to participate with equivalent/reciprocal qualification.
    • May be determined by advisory board to define social equity qualifications
      • With minimum areas defined such as: income, arrest history, disproportionately impacted area(s), residency or heritage to avoid gentrification issues at large.
  • Defining permit types (similar to wine wholesale model) such as:

    • Importing
      • Privileges to buy from exporters directly and sell to distributors or transporters and licensees into a state system from another state
    • Exporting
      • Privileges to buy from operators and sell from a state system to an importer in another state
    • Transporting
      • Privileges to sell to or buy from qualified cannabis licensed businesses within a state system and to move product from or to licensees in a state or between importers and exporters interstate
    • Testing
      • State labs that meet national standards to ensure consistency with results for other permit types
      • May not be strictly social equity since existing labs are more specialized in converting to federal standards and adding this permit

Defining these basic requirements offers a framework for interstate commerce permitting and establishes the essential agencies required to enact a robust social equity program federally. More importantly, it stalls illegal and gray area activity from taking root under the guise of federal legalization by ensuring interstate commerce activity falls under a specific regulatory agency already well versed in interstate commerce permitting and regulation.

Suggested Social Equity Definition:

To define social equity applicant qualifications, DEIC suggests the TTB and SBA move away from diversity supplier program definitions which are too restrictive for a new industry to qualify. In order to accommodate the cannabis industry, DEIC recommends looking at other state definitions of social equity qualification that have proven to be effective. 

  1. Factors like living in a disproportionately impacted area for 5 out of 10 years, being arrested for cannabis or having a family member who was arrested, as well as income below the poverty line, should become qualifying factors.
  2. Additionally, minorities, women, and veterans should be given additional consideration in the definition of who qualifies as a minority cannabis business.
  3. High poverty rate, unemployment rate and participation in federal or state income-based programs, a history of arrests, convictions and other law enforcement practices in a certain geographic area, such as, but not limited to, precincts, zip codes, neighborhoods, census tracts and political subdivisions, reflecting a disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition during a certain time period (war on drugs started in 1971), when compared to the rest of the state.
  4. Utilize the advisory committee and collaborate with cannabis social equity groups to make sure gentrification and displacement are taken into account. Many areas have drastically changed over the last 5-10 years. Where a person spent their formative, childhood years should also be factored in. Guarding against ‘gerrymandering’ types of map cutouts, where folks who grew up literally surrounded by DIA’s, and who dealt with many of the same issues growing up, are somehow not considered to be disproportionately impacted. 

We believe the federal government should leave regulations within each state alone during this multi-year implementation and defer to the TTB and SBA to work in conjunction with any Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulations with their primary focus pertaining to interstate commerce and taxation as it relates to social equity permit issuance. 

Defining How Many Permits to Issue to Social Equity Operators

To address the common shortfalls of state programs, the DEIC realizes that social equity applicants are already a minority stakeholder in existing cannabis licensing. In most states, sadly, constituting less than 5% ownership. This is a huge difference compared to the proportion of individuals in prison for the same activities a licensed business is allowed to conduct.

  • Accordingly, the DEIC recommends a direct balance in ensuring a lock-out period on issuing new permits and ensuring, during that time, that 95% of the permits go to social equity owners/operators.

While some may consider such a counter-balance to be extreme, more and more states are increasing the committed amount of licenses for social equity to ensure a fair counter-balance. If anything, mega-players should be competing with each other for a select number of limited licenses – not the other way around.

We also realize that, in order to generate investment or value behind interstate commerce permits, there could not be an unlimited number of them initially issued. While the advisory board may issue more in the future, we feel a bold stand to increase the number of valuable permits for initial social equity applicants nationwide is necessary to ensure a balance that reflects the oversight to include social equity business into the industry thus far.

  • DEIC suggests 1,500 permits as a starting point divided among the three primary types (import, export, transport) as a fair balance initially.

The above policies may seem bold, but they are designed to seek to balance the industry and state’s failure to allow social equity participation. Most cannabis states left out social equity operators by mandating residency and felony-free requirements. 

The reality is that interstate commerce means selling the products already owned and produced by non-social equity folks. Further, if it was not for these legacy operators, there would not be a cannabis culture. A culture that has been co-opted from legacy social equity operators by mega operators who kept “undesirables” from the industry at its inception.

These policies seek to balance the needs of traditional cannabis businesses that would most benefit from interstate commerce, with the needs of social equity businesses to create equal opportunity. By limiting the number and availability of interstate commerce permits for at least a 5 lock-out year period, the policy ensures traditional operators partner with social equity permit holders to export, import, and transport their goods between various markets.

The policy helps ensure partnerships that are more equitable for both parties and, in doing so, seeks to avoid “predatory operating agreements” or “social equity colonialism” that dilute social equity operators who are not given the opportunity or resources to bring anything to the table. Therefore, the DEIC stands by lock-out periods and a dedicated high percentage of limited licenses for social equity interstate commerce permitting as a policy to balance existing inequity.

In the next part of this policy paper series, the DEIC will examine how this framework sets up social equity technical assistance, qualification, and a phased approach of implementation to ensure the widest net is cast and that social equity operators have ample time to qualify, are appropriately funded, and set up for success with an equal starting line for interstate commerce.

Read Part 3 of this blog series.

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, April 7, 2022

NCIA Deputy Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

This episode of NCIA Today is brought to you by Senseon Secure Access, offering concealed protection, monitoring, and workflow management for dispensaries. Senseon is ready to provide you with an exceptional customer experience, plus improved efficiency and compliance, not to mention slim and modular aesthetics. Learn more about their security solutions and cost benefits at Senseon.com.

NCIA Partners with Green Enterprise’s HBCU College to Career Initiative

This week on Thursday, April 7, 2022 kicks off the first event in a partnership between NCIA and Green Enterprise’s HBCU College to Career Initiative to bring career empowerment to HBCU students and alumni (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) starting at Chicago State University.  

This significant initiative expands opportunities for underrepresented Black and Brown people in the cannabis industry. In a series of on-campus events at HBCUs around the country, the College to Career Initiative will assemble prominent Black entrepreneurs, state officials, and thought leaders to discuss solutions to create a point of entry in the growing cannabis industry, as well as substantial pathways to success. 

Join us on April 7, 2022 at Chicago State University for a dynamic day where you can get up close and personal with prominent Black advocates and entrepreneurs for career advancement in the industry! 

You can expect to network throughout the day and join intimate conversations in the afternoon with experts on how to use YOUR unique skills to break into the industry. NCIA leaders will be speaking, as well as hosting “office hours” with students and alumni interested in discussing the best pathways to break into the industry. This event is a continuation of NCIA’s Equity Workshop Series, the live, in-person component of our equity scholarship and mentorship program. 

Creating a Pipeline to Generational Wealth

“The goal here is to create a direct pipeline of opportunity from black and brown students and alumni to our member companies and resources,” says NCIA DEI Manager, Mike Lomuto. By now most of us are aware of the vast underrepresentation of Black and Brown communities in the upper levels of the cannabis industry. This initiative is a way to build a foundation, starting at the ground level with students coming out of educational institutions gaining direct access to opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach by bringing these prominent Black entrepreneurs and cannabis leaders in person to meet with these students. 

When Mike and Andrew Farrior, co-founder of Green Enterprise Magazine, began conversations in the Fall, they aligned on the deep commitment to expanding real opportunities for folks to have access to building generational wealth. Green Enterprise, operated and produced by Digital Venture Partners and Black Enterprise, then announced the Green Enterprise College to Career Initiative. This series of on-campus events will tour HBCUs across the country in 2022, creating a point of entry in the growing cannabis industry, as well as substantial pathways to success. The timing of this couldn’t be more relevant, as many of the HBCUs are in the Northeast and Southeastern states that are coming online with cannabis programs, and as the tour gets established we will be there right on the ground providing access to the industry. 

The Unique Opportunity for NCIA Members 

NCIA will provide adapted versions of our Equity Workshop Tour at these HBCU events. The in-person component of our equity scholarship and mentorship program allows us to engage with social equity applicants and operators, as well as the community at large on the ground, in different regions in the country with the goal of addressing specific needs of the community while connecting them to resources. “So this is why it was such a good fit for us to make this partnership. We hope to connect with Black leaders in the industry who may be interested in joining NCIA and strengthening our mission together,” says Mike. 

NCIA is composed of thousands of cannabis industry companies that are searching for interns, employees, and partners. NCIA has the unique ability to represent small businesses in all different sectors all over the country. There are many opportunities throughout the NCIA network for people to enter and advance in the industry from a variety of entry points. Being involved in this historic initiative allows us to bring people to the table that may not have otherwise had the ability to partner with Andrew and Green Enterprise’s initiatives. When Andrew brought this opportunity to Mike, and Mike subsequently brought it to NCIA’s member base, the response was immediate and exciting. “People are ready to just give and do whatever they can to help with this initiative, and bring the cannabis industry to these campuses in whatever way Andrew thought we should do.” 

The HBCU College to Career Initiative Tour Dates 

These historic events at HBCUs will be taking place throughout the remainder of 2022, and underline a variety of conversations and lectures covering a wide range of topics, from entrepreneurship to cannabis marketing, to building an inclusive industry that began at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA in February and will continue on to Chicago State University this April 7th, presented by Cresco Labs. The CSU event will be held in conjunction with the predominantly black two-year college, Olive-Harvey. The tour will then make additional stops at Florida A&M University on April 20th, and Medgar-Evers College on April 30th, both being powered by Massachusetts-based operator, Curaleaf.

Cresco Labs, the presenting sponsor for Chicago State University and Olive-Harvey College, will promote significant conversations and initiatives and hand out materials to initiate in-earnest partnerships between cannabis operators and HBCUs and develop a direct, effective talent pipeline into the industry.

Spotlighted topics such as social impact and entrepreneurship, as well as, economics and investing, will be covered. The full schedule is available at GreenEnterpriseHBCU.live:

Chicago State University & Olive-Harvey College – Chicago, IL
Thursday, April 7, 2022

Florida A&M University – Tallahassee, FL
Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Medgar-Evers College – New York, NY
Saturday, April 30, 2022

For more information on attending the upcoming events, please visit https://www.greenenterpriseHBCU.live/.

Get Involved! 

Sponsorship and partnership opportunities are available for this specific initiative and NCIA’s programs. Also for our members interested in becoming involved, please reach out to Mike Lomuto, DEI Manager.

We’re excited to get our members engaged with this initiative to create solid pipelines at this historic point in the industry. 

Committee Blog: Protect Against Corporate Identity Theft with Trademark Rights

By NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

A company’s brand is its identity. Branding elements – names, logos, colors, graphics, slogans – are how customers recognize a product or service as coming from a particular source. Done properly, brands can be as recognizable to consumers as a person’s face, name, and voice. In some cases, brands may be some of the most valuable assets a company may own. Protecting physical assets is common in the cannabis industry, but how do companies protect intangible assets, like their identity? Fortunately, there are bodies of intellectual property law designed to provide legal protections against others from using brand elements that are too close to your own. To take advantage of these protections, however, cannabis companies must understand how each one works and develop a branding strategy that leverages intellectual property laws.

This is the second article in a 3-part series about cannabis IP. The first article focused on patent law and can be found here. The series will culminate with a Q&A-based webinar on April 19th at 1:00 Eastern. Advance questions can be sent to paul@thalo.io.

Mechanisms of Brand Protection

Brands are protected most prominently by legal domains known as trademark and trade dress.  Trademarks include a company’s name, logos, and slogans, as well as those of any individual products. In some instances, trademarks may also include recognizable elements like colors (UPS’s brown) and sounds (NBC’s chimes). Trade dress is a similar concept to trademarks, but applies to the distinct appearance of a product or its packaging. Trade dress can even be used to protect the unique look and feel of a retail establishment, such as a restaurant or dispensary.

Both trademark and trade dress is intended to reduce confusion in the marketplace as to the origin of a product or service. The idea is that the public is best served when they can reliably determine which company to associate with each product. Reliable product-company association increases quality accountability, facilitates safety controls, allows consumers to form powerful brand loyalty.

Companies that avail themselves of trademark and trade dress laws gain access to a set of tools to legally fence off others from using branding that is likely to confuse customers about the source of a product. And, unlike other forms of intellectual property, trademark rights can last indefinitely and even strengthen over time. Some of these rights arise automatically just by using a mark, others must be sought out through registration.  

Principles to Consider When Selecting a Brand

Every company should consider trademark principles from day zero, when first selecting a name. U.S. trademark rights only apply to marks that are “distinctive,” meaning they are capable of distinguishing things bearing the mark from goods and services offered by others. The more distinctive a mark is, the stronger protections provided by trademark law. Names that merely describe the goods or services are non-distinctive and are typically not eligible for trademark protection.

There are five general categories along the spectrum of distinctiveness – fanciful, arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive, and generic – arranged from strongest to weakest.

Fanciful marks words that were invented specifically to serve as a trademark, such as Xerox or Nvidia. Because these words have no other meaning than to identify the source of goods or services, they are the most distinctive category of trademark and receive the greatest protections.  

Arbitrary marks are the second most distinctive category of mark and include words that have alternative meanings, but only meanings in contexts unrelated to the goods or services being sold. These include Apple computers, Lotus cars, and Bicycle playing cards.

Suggestive marks are less distinctive than Fanciful and Arbitrary marks, but still considered sufficiently distinctive to receive trademark protection, though registration may be more difficult.  Suggestive marks imply a quality or characteristic of the good or service the mark is used in connection with. Some examples of suggestive marks would include: Microsoft, a portmanteau of microprocessors and software; ChapStick, for a stick-shaped balm used on chapped lips; and Netflix, which is suggestive of an internet-based video service. 

Descriptive marks simply describe the goods or services being offered and are, therefore, not distinctive. In some cases, however, descriptive marks can acquire distinctiveness and achieve a “secondary meaning” as a source-identifier through long-term use (usually +5 years), heavy advertising, or pervasive adoption. Examples of Descriptive Marks would include: International Business Machines (IBM Computers); Best Buy retail stores; and Sports Illustrated magazine. 

Generic marks are terms that broadly identify the product or service being offered. Generic marks are so non-distinctive that they are not eligible for trademark registration, even if secondary meaning can be shown. The idea is that these marks are so fundamental to the product that it would be detrimental to consumers and the marketplace to allow a brand to have exclusive use of the term in connection with the goods. “Escalator” and “Dumpster” were once brand names but, because they were used widely to refer to all mechanized stairways and trash receptacles regardless of manufacturer, they lost all trademark distinctiveness.

Parody Does Not Apply – Avoid Famous Brands

A surprising number of cannabis companies have used trademarks that reference or parody famous brands. Gorilla Glue, Girl Scout Cookies, and many others have been used as names for cannabis products.  Companies have used packaging that resembles well-known products such as Life Savers and Sour Patch Kids. This is a bad idea. While this practice seems to be increasingly limited to unregulated markets, a recently published (and ill-advised) application for the mark and logo MCWEED for apparel shows that not everyone has received the message:

Registration and Scope of Protection

Some trademark rights are established as soon as a trademark is used in commerce. But to obtain the full scope of legal protections available, trademark owners must register their marks, preferably federally. Federal registration stakes a claim to a nationwide priority date, increases protections available, increases potential damages, and embodies a definities property that can accrue value.

All trademark registrations begin as applications. Trademark applications must, among other things, identify the mark, the applicable dates of use. Applicants must also describe the goods and/or services the mark is (or will be) used with and select one or more classes from an international menu of product classifications. The classes selected and the description of the products can greatly affect the scope and validity of a registration, so it is important to consult with an experienced trademark attorney.

These applications are examined by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to ensure they meet the statutory requirements. Typically, the USPTO completes examination within about 6 months, but currently the office is experiencing some delays and it is commonly taking 7-10 months for an application to be evaluated. If the examining attorney identifies any problems, they may issue rejections, to which the applicant will have an opportunity to respond.

If the USPTO approves the application, it will be published for 30 days (expandable to 180 days) to allow other trademark owners to oppose registration of the mark. Sophisticated trademark owners can set up alerts to be notified when any similar applications are published that may be concerning. At the close of that period the mark is recorded in the federal register and the trademark registration is complete. 

A qualified trademark attorney can help guide you through the process and provide counseling concerning how to maximize your chances of registering your trademark without prejudicing your rights. Trademark application fees run $250-$350 per class of goods or services and a trademark attorney will typically charge a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on their experience and the level of pre-application clearance. While trademark mills and self-guided applications are available, there are many pitfalls to avoid while preparing and prosecuting a trademark application, and applicants should be wary of attempting to navigate the process without legal guidance.

Applicants should also be aware that many companies mine the USPTO database to send unsolicited offers to trademark applicants. While these offers can look official and typically include some deadline to respond, they are usually scams. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to have an attorney review any correspondence relating to the trademark application to ensure that no important correspondence from the USPTO is missed.

Embrace the Zone of Expansion

There are a lot of benefits to registering trademarks, but registration is not available in all instances. Under federal law, registrations cannot be issued that cover goods or services that are federally illegal. But the same mark can be registered for other, legal products, and the trademark rights will extend to a reasonable “zone of expansion,” covering products that the trademark owner could reasonably branch out to in the future. This allows a brand owner to obtain the benefits of federal trademark registration and use it to provide some umbrella protection for their cannabis brands.

One option is to sell branded accessory products, such as apparel or smoking accessories, for which a trademark registration will pass muster. It is debatable, however, whether cannabis products are within the zone of expansion of t-shirts.  

Another option is to develop one or more low-THC hemp products under the same brand as high-THC cannabis products. At least one case is already working its way through the courts where a trademark owner is claiming that cannabis edibles are within the zone of expansion of a line of hemp-infused, low-THC edibles. Edible IP, LLC and Edible Arrangements, LLC v. MC Brands, LLC and Green Thumb Industries, Inc., (Case No. 20-cv-05840). Though that approach is also not without its pitfalls, as discussed below.

A final option that every cannabis company should consider is state trademark registration. State registration requirements are typically governed by state law and, therefore, state trademark registrations can often be obtained for cannabis products. State registrations are more limited than federal registrations, but can be a powerful tool in the current landscape of cannabis IP.

Products with CBD Can Be Trademarked, But You Can’t Trademark “CBD” Products

Companies that produce hemp products do not have the same problem with federal illegality as companies with high-THC products. Federal registration is available for trademarks that are used on hemp and hemp products. However, as most hemp companies should know, the advertising of cannabidiol or “CBD” is regulated by the Federal Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”), 21 U.S.C. §§ 321(g)(1), 331(d) and 355(a). Because CBD is the active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug (Epidiolex®), the FDCA prohibits marketing CBD products (absent a New Drug Application or Abbreviated New Drug Application). Though that may change. As of now, however, the USPTO will refuse to register marks that identify the goods as “CBD.” In re AgrotecHemp Corp., Serial No. 88979905 (issued Feb. 10, 2022) (finding that PUREXXXCBD for plant extracts should be refused registration).  

Notably, the AgrotechHemp decision went further than previous USPTO decisions in that it also criticized the issuance of registrations for marks used on products “derived from hemp.” This may signal a crackdown on all hemp-related registrations, or it may be limited to registrations that explicitly identify the goods as containing “CBD.”

Where’s the Value in Trademarks?

It may come as no surprise that brands can be incredibly valuable assets. In some cases, a company’s brand can make up a significant portion of its balance sheet and brand-centric companies can fetch a premium when they are acquired, known as “goodwill.” Increasingly, specialized lenders are even willing to use secured IP as financing collateral. Nonetheless, the real value for many trademark owners is non-monetary.

When many people think about intellectual property, they recall headlines of jury verdicts with huge damages that can reach into the billions of dollars. The reality is that, absent intentional copying, trademark cases rarely result in large-dollar awards. More often, successful trademark suits result in an injunction preventing further infringement and some relatively minimal damages. The primary value of trademark rights is the ability to control your brand and how consumers perceive your brand in the marketplace. Trademark rights give you the tools to define your brand as a unique identity and preserve that identity in an increasingly crowded industry.


Committee Blog: Social Equity Perspectives on Interstate Commerce – Part 1

by Mark Slaugh, iComply LLC
NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

As the debate heats up on “how” rather than “if” cannabis legalization will happen, social equity and comprehensive reform are at the forefront of the minds of national legislators and advocates. Historically, people chose to legalize cannabis as a method of legitimizing the illicit cannabis market. Beyond the message that “Black Lives Matter,” the issue of the federal legalization of marijuana means, fundamentally, that the federal government must spearhead meaningful policies in diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, to balance the scales of injustice during prohibition and early legalization efforts by the States. 

Further, the Biden Administration’s priority of respecting the sovereignty and self-governance of tribal nations means federal trust and treaty responsibilities may finally be met by regularly having meaningful consultations with tribal nations to create federal policy. Thus, the inclusion of tribal nation’s representatives is imperative when creating federal policy to ensure their rights are secure and there is parity amongst states and tribes.

Any descheduling or legalization framework must hold a social equity objective that is clear at the core of its function: To create as much NEW generational wealth for the most number of those disparaged from participating in the legal cannabis industry because of the socioeconomic impacts of more than 80 years of federal marijuana prohibition and due to the barriers to entry created amid state regulatory regimes. 

Sadly, as written currently, all proposed federal bills fail to meet this critical objective.

As soon as the federal government deschedules marijuana, it falls under Congress’ constitutional purview to regulate interstate commerce. Marijuana included. This is likely the ONLY opportunity available for those impacted by the war on marijuana to balance the scales of historic injustice, by providing an opportunity to participate in cannabis business ownership in a meaningful and valuable way. 

If social equity is not adequately addressed in a federal act, it would require a secondary bill to tax and regulate interstate commerce activities. This would waste precious time and open a door to unregulated and taxed activities until congressional consensus and control are established. We have seen mistakes like this lead to disaster already amid state markets who leapt before ensuring a safety net. It also would NOT guarantee that social equity would be addressed in a second bill under new congressional, senate, or executive purview.

More importantly, the projected market cap of the U.S. cannabis industry is projected to be $85B by 2027 and was $18B in 2020. To put that number in perspective today, the largest tobacco company’s market cap is $95.6B – that’s over 5x the market cap of the whole cannabis industry. Similarly, the largest beverage distribution company has a $45.5B market cap – or over $2.5x of the current cannabis industry cap.

Both of these “big businesses” are in the cannabis industry already and they are preparing for federal legalization. The moment cannabis is de-scheduled, it quickly becomes an “extinction event” for social equity unless guardrails are put in place in the first Federal Act to offer social equity a fighting chance. 

To avoid needless delay, to leverage effective taxation and regulation, to protect social equity from rapid market consolidation and control, and to spearhead well-thought-out and innovative ideas to address the inequities of the cannabis industry, the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) presents these considerations to amend any proposed federal act – in order to preserve key concepts central to addressing interstate commerce and the short-falls of previously enacted social equity programs.

The Problems with Current Social Equity Programs 

In analyzing the social equity programs undertaken at municipal and state levels so far, the NCIA’s DEIC has found multiple shortcomings in achieving the goal of generating new generational wealth for as many people who have been systematically discriminated against during the prohibition era of cannabis.

Namely, the following major issues continue to prevail:

  1. Social equity applicants who are unqualified or do not participate meaningfully in the ownership or operation of the cannabis business. This can be because of the following reasons:
    1. A lack of experience or expertise in business skills necessary to operate
    2. A lack of experience or expertise in regulated cannabis operations
    3. Fear of continued persecution and distrust related to trauma from being victimized by the war on drugs.
      1. Based on the fact cannabis arrests have and still disproportionately affected BIPOC community members.

This causes many traditional, large, and privileged Multi-State Cannabis Operators (MSOs), in addition to established market entrants (Tobacco and Alcohol) as well as Special Purpose Acquisition Funds (SPAC’s) – collectively referred to as “mega players” – to decide to “take the wheel and drive” the cannabis licensing process and to put the social equity operator in the proverbial “back seat.” Another issue that remains unaddressed and underlies challenges in successful social equity programs is that:

  1. Social equity operators do not have access to financing to meaningfully contribute to capital or operating expenditures to partnerships with cannabis companies who have capital and expertise. 
    1. This is certainly in large part due to generational prohibition and lack of access in being underprivileged. 
    2. Prohibition also impacts financing which systematically discriminates against the disprivileged; regardless of their interest to participate in the cannabis industry.
    3. These individuals were prohibited from entering the legal market (when barriers were lower) and were initially labeled as “undesirables” because of past criminal history. This gave the cannabis industry and culture away to people who never suffered a day in the war on drugs.

The lack of access to education, experience, and wealth often drives the existing “mega players” who “hold the keys” to expertise and wealth, to justify operating agreements that contain provisions that make the social equity licensee’s position dilutable in the event they cannot meet their operating or fiduciary duties. Which brings up the third underlying problem in social equity programs which is connected to the above factors:

2. Attracting and grooming social equity candidates to qualify for licenses only to then leverage the applicant out of the licenses, is often how “mega players” skirt around social equity provisions. The justification in doing so is due to the above two factors and is justified as “what is best for business” by traditional operators expanding their footprint through social equity licensing. 

In the social equity conversation, these partnership agreements are often referred to as “predatory operating agreements” which refer to the manner in which many “mega player” operators, knowing social equity applicants cannot bring education, experience, or money to the table, systemically target and groom qualified social equity applicants into delusions of wealth participation in cannabis only to obtain a license and then proceed into diluting the social equity partner – rather than educating them, providing them experience, or helping them obtain the wealth to contribute as equals. 

Mega players, multi-licensed cannabis businesses, and vertical cannabis businesses may also engage in “social equity colonialism” in which they create “incubator programs” to educate, train, possibly fund, or partner with social equity entrepreneurs only to have them compete against one another in “pitch competitions” in which the mega player can cherry-pick the most controllable or affordable operator or otherwise leverage them to benefit including using taxpayer funds granted by the state or through discounts on licensing and/or taxes. Too often, the intent is to “tokenize” social equity operators, rather than empower them as equals.

Whether intentional or not, the impact of reducing social equity applicant participation after using them to obtain social equity licensing is a commonplace practice and shortfall of the programs analyzed by the DEIC.

To solve these problems, the DEIC acknowledges that the motivation for those in power to remain in power does not incentivize them to provide a truly equitable partnership simply because a program exists to do so. To address these diluting agreements, we recognize that the Government must play a role in addressing the underlying factors which justify the behavior driving “predatory operating agreements” and “social equity colonialism”.

Indeed, federal legalization and the regulation of interstate commerce with social equity at the forefront may be the last opportunity to address the harms caused by prohibition nationwide and the inequity of governments refusing to address social equity in cannabis. Similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the victims in the war on cannabis cannot depend solely on state and local governments to address social equity. 

Over the next two parts of this series, we will outline a framework of components that may be amended or included in a federal legalization bill to resolve the problems in social equity identified and to provide a comprehensive reform for permitting interstate commerce and addressing the inequity prevalent in the cannabis industry.

Read more in Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog series.

Video: NCIA TODAY – Thursday, March 10, 2022

NCIA Deputy Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

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