The Pathway to Greater Equity in New York’s New Adult Use Cannabis Market

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager

Over the past few months, the NCIA has been hard at work in social equity and the emerging New York market. NCIA’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee has organized an ongoing roundtable discussion with various ally organizations including NYC NORML, Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), The People’s Ecosystem, the JUSTUS Foundation, Black and Brown Economic Power in Cannabis (BBEPIC), and the Social Equity Co-Chairs of the New York City/Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry Association (NYCCIA/HVCIA), and Unified Legacy Operators Council (UNLOC), and social equity cannabis business owners from existing markets.

These discussions have centered around the proposed New York regulations, policies, and concerns. We all share a common goal to provide sensible and workable solutions to the state famous for “stop and frisk” in alignment with the goals of New York, to create a diverse, inclusive, and socially equitable cannabis industry. 

What emerged from our roundtable discussions over the last few months are robust proposals regarding key regulatory changes and solutions to the New York regulators as they deliberate their proposed rules that will affect the industry. If our proposed comments were to be adopted, we are confident New York will see more equitable pathways for folks who potentially would be left behind otherwise. In particular, we strongly recommend their definitions of justice be broadened and we included proposals to that effect. We also encourage the regulators to create more pathways and solutions for legacy operators still in the shadows to be able to enter the legitimacy of the industry. Further, we proposed sensible changes to align New York to more national standards in labeling, advertising, packaging, licensing, and operations.

Our coalition roundtable based our recommendations on combined decades of experience on the frontlines and in the communities that will be impacted by these regulations. Our proposals are workable solutions the state of New York can incorporate in order to solidify equity in the industry as they come online. 

As a roundtable coalition that is New York focused but with national reach, we’re proud to be able to work alongside our allies to create a think tank that will affect future markets beyond the big apple as they struggle with the concept of good and effective social equity programs. For far too long, the road has been paved with good intentions that fall short of the destination needed for true social equity. Our New York Social Equity Roundtable has brought together people from various sectors and organizations who fundamentally understand that and who are passionate about bridging the disparity all too prevalent in the cannabis industry.

Proposed NY Office of Cannabis Management Rules Review – submitted May 31, 2022

Packaging & Labeling Recommendations – submitted August 15, 2022

Advisory Board Recommendations to NY OCM – submitted September 2022

Social Equity Members Head to D.C. to Lobby for A More Inclusive Industry

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager

NCIA is proud to announce that for the first time, thanks to the support of our members, we have awarded nine Lobby Days Equity Scholarships to support our Social Equity members with travel expenses to attend NCIA’s Lobby Days in Washington, D.C., on September 13-14. These Social Equity applicants and operators from around the country are leaders and active contributors to NCIA’s Sector Committees, our DEI Initiatives (particularly policy-related ones), and to advocacy efforts in their local and/or state municipalities. 

Lobby Days provides the opportunity for NCIA members to come together to advocate for the issues most important to small cannabis businesses — from SAFE Banking to federal de-scheduling — and to share their personal stories with national lawmakers. 

Our delegation includes:

Dr. Adrian Adams, Ontogen Botanicals CBD
Ambrose Gardner, Elev8
LaVonne Turner, Puff Couture
Michael Diaz-Rivera, Better Days Delivery
Osbert Orduña, The Cannabis Place
Raina Jackson, Purple Raina
Toni MSN, RN, CYT, Toni 

We asked our DEI delegation why attending Lobby Days was important to them. Here are some of their responses:

“I want our elected officials to hear my story which gives a voice to so many others, who like me, grew up in areas that have disproportionately borne the brunt and weight of cannabis enforcement. Children and young adults, whose only crime was being poor and of color, faced the indignity of being stopped and frisked hundreds of times. Now after paying the ultimate entry price, we can not get in the door of the cannabis industry because of a lack of banking and lending opportunities that continue to shut us out of the cannabis market.

The de-scheduling of cannabis, the passing of SAFE Banking, or the repeal of IRC 280E all would immediately increase the opportunities for small cannabis businesses like mine to have a true opportunity for success, growth, and economic empowerment of our communities.” 

– Osbert Orduña, The Cannabis Place


“As the industry grows and moves towards federal legalization, our elected officials must hear constituents’ voices. It’s important that my energy, face, and voice are present, representing the need for safe banking, health equity, and policies that support federal legalization. As states continue to legalize adult recreational cannabis usage, there will be an increased need for cannabis health equity to address the social, political, and economic conditions in underserved communities.

I’m committed to increasing awareness of the importance of education, employee retention, and community wellness in these communities.”

– Toni MSN, RN, CYT, Founder of Toni
NCIA’s Education Committee & Health Equity Working Group


“I have begun to work on lobbying at a local level. Federal legalization, descheduling, decarceration, social equity, health equity, and safe banking are some of the areas that I would like to learn how to lobby for at the national level.”

– Michael Diaz-Rivera, Owner/Operator, Better Days Delivery


“We should not stop at using the SAFE Banking Act merely to provide legal and regulatory protection for financial institutions. That will enable, but not ensure, increased banking services for minority-owned cannabis and hemp companies.

As the regulatory gaps between state and federal governments are addressed, there must be mechanisms to prevent predatory practices while opening access to capital.”

– Dr. Adrian Adams, Ontogen Botanicals CBD



It is important to the NCIA, and its membership for Main Street Cannabis to continue to develop in as diverse, equitable, and inclusive a manner as we can achieve. As the industry has thus far failed at creating tangible Social Equity, it’s important to ensure our efforts this September to include these voices and the communities they represent. 

This is where the DEI delegation comes in.

As the official DEI delegation, the Lobby Days Equity Scholarship recipients will provide a foundational understanding of matters related to DEI in the industry for all NCIA members present at Lobby Days. The DEI delegation will ensure that there are members present speaking up on matters of DEI from within an important national trade association and within the context of Main Street Cannabis.

NCIA’s Government Relations team has organized a full day of meetings with Lawmakers and their Offices.  New citizen lobbyists will receive online training before the event and are grouped together with experienced industry leaders who can help them find their voice. There will be an opening networking reception for all attendees, and a closing event featuring some of NCIA’s most important allies in Congress.

We are still accepting sponsorships to fully fund Lobby Days Equity Scholarships to ensure our recipients have their travel and lodging expenses covered while in Washington, D.C. Contact for more information.

Let’s keep building a better industry together, as we bring our voices to Washington, D.C.


Member Blog: 4 Budtender Onboarding Tips To Help Keep You Compliant

by Tommy Truong, KayaPush 

A recent survey by found that 55% of budtenders leave their jobs within the first year of employment.* But why? 

Some believe improper onboarding could be a culprit.   

First impressions matter – and improper onboarding can leave budtenders feeling underprepared and unappreciated. Moreover, budtenders who don’t receive proper compliance training might be terminated due to compliance infractions and could even be at personal risk for their errors. 

Luckily, by setting up solid budtender onboarding SOPs that put compliance first, you are more likely to keep great hires – and avoid compliance infractions.

The following information will help dispensary owners implement hiring and training strategies to increase retention, avoid compliance infractions, and simplify dispensary onboarding.  

1 – Look into legal before you hire.

Compliant onboarding starts with understanding your budtenders’ requirements to work at your dispensary.

Every state has unique requirements regarding background checks, legal age, and budtender certifications – so it is essential to research each of these elements before you begin the hiring process. 

Once you have established your hiring guidelines regarding legal requirements – you can take it one step further and set up an applicant tracking system that is customized to only reach out to applicants who qualify for your set terms. 

Using tools that automate these processes will make compliant dispensary hiring easy.

Social equity hiring initiatives in cannabis 

While we’re on the topic of hiring for your cannabis dispensary, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of researching potential social equity programs for dispensary hiring opportunities. 

You can use these resources to find qualified social equity candidates for your dispensary based on the state in which you are located.

2 – Have an organized onboarding documentation process.

The next step to a smooth and compliant onboarding process is to know all the forms you need to provide and gather from your new hire. 

If you are an American business owner, the forms you will need to collect from your employee include:

  • W2
  • Criminal record check verification
  • 1-9 
  • State Tax Form
  • ID or Passport 
  • Social security information 
  • A void check 
  • A signed employer agreement 
  • Any certifications you have requested they acquire

The forms you will need to share with your new hire include:

3 – Use self-serve onboarding software. 

Business owners who don’t use employee onboarding software manage a lot of paperwork.

From chasing new hires around for signatures or documents – to figuring out the best way to store things – it’s a time-consuming headache, and it’s not ideal. 

With dispensary self-serve onboarding software, dispensary owners can eliminate 100% of their paperwork – and increase their compliance in many ways. 

Here’s how it works. When a new hire joins, a dispensary owner can share their onboarding link, where their new hire will upload digitized documents directly into the system for central storage. 

If any documentation is missing, the system will send a reminder to ensure they provide all the information needed for dispensary owners to stay compliant. 

4 – Provide compliance training for budtenders

Compliance training should be a critical part of the budtender onboarding process – but what does that mean? 

For budtenders, there are four main areas of compliance to master: How to sell products to customers and with a POS system, how to handle products, and overall regulations comprehension.

Selling products to customers training might include:

  • Learn how to greet guests in a compliant way 
  • How and when to properly ID guests
  • Knowledge of strains, potency, and effects
  • Understanding different types of products based on clients’ needs

POS training might include: 

  • Knowing how to input ID information 
  • Learning how to ring in products correctly
  • Understanding product limits per customer guidelines 
  • Knowing how to use and report sold products with a compliant POS 
  • Understanding the compliance factors behind customer loyalty programs and incentives

Product handling training might include:

  • How to properly package product 
  • How to showcase product
  • How to inventory product
  • How to handle products

Overall regulation comprehension might include:

  • Current cannabis laws in the state or city
  • Current compliant regulations 
  • Store opening and closing SOPs for compliance
  • Security SOPs for compliance 
  • How to use cannabis software tools for clock in’s and schedules.

What are other tips to stay compliant? 

Compliance is one of the most challenging aspects of running a cannabis dispensary – however, if you surround yourself with the right team, use cannabis software built for dispensaries in your state, and check in often on regulatory updates – you will be alright.

*(, 2022 An analysis of employee turnover in cannabis retail)

Author Tommy Truong is the CEO at KayaPush; the cannabis software helping dispensary owners manage their employee HR, scheduling, and payroll. KayaPush also integrates with leading dispensary POS systems. Tommy loves hot sauce, fried chicken, and running with his Boston terriers

KayaPush delivers an innovative, unified compliance solution that meets payroll and HR needs without compromising speed and accuracy. Implementing KayaPush will save you time and money and help eliminate the financial risks associated with non-compliance.


Video: Defending Main Street Cannabis Businesses

As the only national advocate for small and mid-sized cannabis businesses, NCIA works every day to advance policy reforms favorable to the whole industry — not just the wealthiest few. Hear from NCIA Board Members why our mission and advocacy work is crucial to defending the interests of everyday businesses in the cannabis industry.

We are Main Street Cannabis, not Wall Street Cannabis.

Become a member of NCIA today so that everyone can benefit from cannabis legalization — not just the wealthiest few.



Joining NCIA ensures that your interests are heard in our nation’s halls of power as the rules for national legalization are written. We’re also the only full service trade association in the industry, which means that our members enjoy unparalleled ROI and benefits to help them thrive in an increasingly challenging environment.

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, August 25, 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. This week Bethany is joined by NCIA CEO Aaron Smith to talk about the importance of having your voice heard on Capitol Hill at our upcoming 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days on September 13-14. Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.



Video: Main Street Cannabis Heads to Capitol Hill in D.C. in September!

Join us September 13-14, 2022 as we return in person to Washington, D.C. for the first time since 2019 for NCIA’s 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days!

This is your chance to unite with other NCIA members to advocate for the issues most important to small cannabis businesses – from SAFE Banking to federal de-scheduling – and to share your personal stories with national lawmakers who need to hear from Main Street Cannabis businesses.

Watch this video to hear from NCIA’s CEO and Co-founder, Aaron Smith, about why you should attend this most impactful and crucial event next month. Not yet a member? Join today and then make your plans to join us in D.C.

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.

Member Blog: How Technology Can Ensure An Equitable Cannabis Industry

by Walter Moore, Cognitive Harmony Technologies CEO

The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry is coming to a town near you. With new states passing adult-use legislation every day, it’s only a matter of time before businesses begin opening their doors nationwide. 

In states such as New York, the first cannabis business licenses (CBLs) are being given to people who were impacted by the war on drugs and hemp farmers. The effort is a first-of-its-kind approach that is admirable in theory – a positive step toward righting the wrongs that have persistently and unfairly affected people of color – but still leave the door open for challenges in practice.

Simply put, the barrier for entry is too high for most individuals due to the complex and convoluted CBL application process. Between sifting through and submitting thousand-plus page documents and potentially spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a perfect, compliant application, new business owners are fighting an uphill battle against multi-state operators (MSOs) who have moved across the country as legalization opens state by state and have the process (and hundreds of thousands dollars needed to afford a dedicated application consulting firm) down to a science.

Legislators may have noble intentions in offering a head-start to people affected by the war on drugs in an effort to correct past wrongdoings and create a distribution of ownership that looks like the people most affected, but if the necessary regulatory framework of the application process is encumbered with more compliance to receive equity benefits, it will be even harder to complete a competitive application – leaving many potential new business owners without a license and the well-oiled machines known as MSOs first in line.

Not to mention the fact that the application process often plays out over years. States will frequently take half a year to review an application and only provide roughly 10 days to fix any deficiencies.

Technology is The Way

While the odds may seem stacked, the technology to close the gap exists and many CBL applicants are finding out how to compete against large MSOs and established players in the market. As someone who experienced everything that goes into the application process, and what is wrong with it, first-hand when I began my career in cannabis, I’ve realized that the only way to effectively compete is by working smarter. Through technology we can create greater access and a level playing field. 

There are several key areas where technology (i.e. “working smarter”) is already paving the way for true social equity while applicants embark on submitting a cannabis business license. Document generation, telepresence, language processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and augmented reality are among areas of interest that savvy CBL applicants can implement into their strategy. By normalizing standard operating procedures (SOPs) across verticals and jurisdictions, companies can provide contextual SOPs directly in front of a user with a simple QR code. Imagine a world where a dispensary employee can access SOPs directly from each piece of equipment or area of a facility with minimal effort simply by scanning a QR code with their tablet.

A Cannabis Industry for All

Laws that benefit a more equitable industry surely help, but in a new industry where the gap between the have and have-nots is already wide and growing rapidly, more steps need to be taken by regulators to eliminate the pay-to-play mistakes that have infested other state cannabis policies such as in my home state of Illinois. In Illinois, there wasn’t a fair cap on the number of CBL submissions for a company, leaving businesses with the most money with an opportunity to submit over 40 times and flood the application pool.

Thankfully, I’m pleased that regulators in New York and New Jersey are doing a better job in this regard, avoiding these unfair situations, but I foresee a highly political zoning situation in New York. Historically, companies that can afford to pay lobbyists and other influential people to get the deals and contracts done, are more successful. I’m not sure what short-term regulatory solution exists for this age-old, persistent issue. 

It’s encouraging to see the cannabis legalization movements around the country paired with well-meaning equity and restorative justice initiatives. However, there is still a high barrier to entry presented by the extensive and convoluted cannabis business license application process. Only through advances in technology will this barrier be taken down.

Walter Moore Cognitive Harmony Technologies CEO & CTO, is an accomplished software architect, financial engineer, and entrepreneur residing in the south suburbs of Illinois. He specializes in architecting elegant, compliant, and scalable solutions to complex regulatory environments in the AdTech, FinTech, Digital Assets, and Cannabis industries. He has a Masters of Science in Financial Engineering and undergraduate degrees in Theoretical Physics and Applied Mathematics.

Walter started Cognitive Harmony Technologies in order to support social equity teams and bring change to an industry which has historically whitewashed the past injustices served in its former prohibition, something which he has experienced firsthand in prior decades. As a cannabis business license owner, Walter knows just how difficult it is to put together a competitive application. He developed the CHT platform in order to help lower the barrier of entry for others willing to put in the hard work of assembling an application, but who would otherwise be priced out of the competition.

About Cognitive Harmony Technologies

At Cognitive Harmony Technologies, our proprietary CHT Accelerator platform is paving the way for true social equity in the CBL application process by developing a meticulous roadmap to create a complete and competitive automated application much like tax preparation software generates tax returns, providing live-support, and offering access to a helpful network of architects, realtors and a range of connections.  Additionally, we offer this for a fraction of the cost of what the hundred-thousand-dollar consulting firms that multi-state operators employ, and in some cases it is completely free.  Cutting-edge technology is the best tool that an everyday, aspiring entrepreneur can leverage to break into the industry, and make the cannabis sector’s leadership as representative and diverse as the consumers. 

Our mission is to open the doors for equitable cannabis business ownership by making the application process easy as filing personal income taxes online. The CHT Accelerator streamlines the entire application process into one easy-to-use software platform so you can create a complete and competitive application. Follow us on LinkedIn or visit our website.

Behind Closed Doors: NCIA at CANNRA’s June Conference

The discussion about the future of cannabis legalization is ongoing, to say the least. Recently, Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) held a two-day conference in early June to gather Marijuana government regulators, trade associations, and businesses. The Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) is a national nonpartisan organization of government cannabis regulators that provides policymakers and regulatory agencies with the resources to make informed decisions when considering whether and how to legalize and regulate cannabis.

Representatives from NCIA participated in the conference – NCIA Board Members Khurshid Khoja (Chair Emeritus) and Michael Cooper (Board Secretary), and we caught up with them in this blog interview to better understand the goals and outcomes of the event.

From a bird’s eye view, what was the overall goal of this conference? 

MC:  The conference was an opportunity for regulators from around the nation to hear directly from stakeholders on the current and future challenges that face these markets and different models of regulation to tackle them.  

KK: I’ll add that our own goals, as the current Policy Co-chairs for NCIA, were to better understand the priorities of state and local cannabis regulators across the country, and anticipate future developments in cannabis policy early on, so we could take that back to the NCIA membership and the staff – especially Michelle Rutter Friberg, Mike Correia, and Maddy Grant from our amazing government relations team.

Let’s talk about who was invited to participate in these panel discussions. From cannabis industry associations to those who regulate cannabis, who else was there?

KK: Michael and I each spoke on a panel. The other speakers included reps from federal trade associations, lobbyists, vendors, and ancillary companies who were helping to underwrite the event (along with NCIA). Given that CANNRA is a non-profit that doesn’t receive any funding from their member jurisdictions, and has a single paid full-time staff member, I thought they were still able to obtain a fairly diverse and interesting set of speakers at the end of the day – including NCIA Board and Committee alums Ean Seeb, Steve DeAngelo, Amber Senter and David Vaillencourt (representing the Colorado Governor’s Office, LPP, Supernova Women and ASTM, respectively), as well as folks from Code for America, Americans for Safe Access, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association, U.S. Pharmacopeia, NIDA, the CDC, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, representatives of the pharmaceutical, hemp, tobacco and logistics industries, and public health officials.

Were there any organizations or sectors of the industry that were not in attendance, whether they weren’t invited or just didn’t participate, and why is it important to note the gaps of who was not represented?

MC:  No licensed businesses were invited. Instead, organizations that represent industry members were invited. As a result, we felt it was crucial to inform these discussions with the perspective of the multitude of small and medium-sized businesses otherwise known as Main Street Cannabis that have built this industry and continue to serve as its engine.    

KK: Sadly, we did not have an opportunity to hear from members of the Coalition of Cannabis Regulators of Color. I can’t speak to why that was, but it was unfortunate for us nonetheless. And while we had some public health officials there, I know that CANNRA Executive Director Dr. Schauer would have preferred to see more of them in attendance.

Across the spectrum of policy and regulations and legislative goals, what topics were covered in the panel discussions across the two-day conference?

KK: We covered a ton, given the time we had, including the federal political and policy landscape; interstate commerce; the impact of taxes on the success of the regulated market; social equity and social justice; preventing youth access; regulation of novel, intoxicating and hemp-based cannabinoids; the prospects for uniform state regulations; technological solutions to improve compliance and regulatory oversight; and delivery models.

What information or perspectives did NCIA bring to the panel discussions that were unique from other participants? What does NCIA represent that is different from the other voices at the event?

MC:  There really are a wide variety of perspectives on how best to regulate this industry. We felt it was essential that NCIA give a voice to Main Street Cannabis, the small businesses that so many adult-use consumers and medical patients rely upon. We emphasized, for example, that these are often businesses that cannot simply operate in the red indefinitely, but provide essential diversity (in the background and life experience of operators as well as in product selection and choice). NCIA wants to make sure that the future of cannabis isn’t simply the McDonalds and Burger Kings of cannabis. There are times when consumers want that, but there are also times when they want something unique and different. And it’s crucial that policy not destroy the small and medium-sized, frequently social equity-owned, businesses that provide those choices.

What else was interesting to you about this gathering of minds? Were you surprised by anything, or was there anything you heard that you disagreed with?

MC: There are a ton of different perspectives and approaches to cannabis, and that’s no surprise to anyone who has followed these issues closely because the tensions are very clear in the policy debates that are ongoing. 

As the voice for the industry, we sought to urge an approach grounded in reality. Americans want these products. That’s clear from the ballot box and public polling. The question should be about how to encourage Americans to purchase regulated, tested versions of these products. 

KK: There was definitely stuff we didn’t agree with – some of it from folks that we otherwise largely agree with. For example, our good friend Steve Hawkins of the USCC shocked a few of us in the audience when he seemed to indicate some receptivity to re-scheduling cannabis on an interim basis, rather than moving to de-scheduling immediately. I think that while rescheduling may benefit scientific research and pharmaceutical development, it could ring the death knell for Main Street Cannabis businesses. NCIA has consistently advocated for de-scheduling rather than re-scheduling.

After two days of panels, did anything new come through these discussions, or were any accomplishments achieved?

KK: I think there’s a growing recognition that addressing social equity solely through preferential licensing and business ownership for the few isn’t enough and that the licensing agencies and regulators that execute social equity policies have a very limited (and often underfunded) arsenal to comprehensively redress the harm caused by federal, state and local governments prosecuting the war on drugs. In my remarks, I said it was time for us to start discussing additional forms of targeted reparation and had a number of regulators approach me afterward to continue the discussion. Candidly, I expected my remarks to fall on deaf ears. They didn’t. That was very encouraging.

MC: There was definite progress. At the end of the day, these cannabis regulators are working hard to try to get this right. But in such a new area, and with so many competing perspectives and voices, their job isn’t easy. We were heartened to see the level of engagement from regulators on these points, including follow-ups to get more information on some of the pain points we identified for small and equity businesses in the industry. 

It was definitely rewarding to provide NCIA and our members’ perspectives in a forum like this, and we’re looking forward to continuing to further strengthen NCIA’s relationship with CANNRA and regulators around the country.  

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, July 28, 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. This week Bethany is joined by NCIA CEO Aaron Smith and Deputy Director of Government Relations Michelle Rutter Friberg. Join us every other Thursday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.


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 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.

Member Blog: As Professionals in the Cannabis Industry, It’s Our Responsibility to Unmask the 4 Big Lies

By Charlena Berry, Cannabis Business Growth

The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.

The vast majority of U.S. adults support the legalization of cannabis, with 60 percent supporting legalization for medical and adult use, and 31 percent supporting medical use only. Only 8 percent say it should not be legal for use by adults in any scenario. These numbers are promising for those of us in the industry, but behind the numbers, many stigmas still exist.

Breaking the stigma against cannabis is the responsibility of each and every individual currently working in the cannabis industry. In particular, for those of us working in retail, we are on the front lines of changing the criminal and negative perceptions associated with cannabis. 

As front-line workers, it is important to understand how the stigma against cannabis came about and how it has harmed not just the cannabis industry and cannabis users, but our entire country. We’ve all been lied to. These Big Lies have shaped our beliefs about race, cannabis, and addiction, and it’s time to unmask these Big Lies for what they are: lies.

#1: Black Men Are Dangerous

The lie that Black men are inherently dangerous extends far, far back into our country’s history, but we’re going to start in the 1930s, with a man named Harry J. Anslinger. Anslinger became the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. 

Anslinger initially spent most of his time chasing down bootleggers. When Prohibition ended in 1933, he suddenly found himself out of a job. For the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to continue to have purpose — and receive the funding that paid his salary — Anslinger had to find a new bogeyman to prosecute. 

He chose marijuana, a term that itself has racist roots and was a way to otherize cannabis as a “Mexican drug.” At this time, cannabis was not regulated in any way in the United States, so he first had to make it illegal. In order to do that, he needed people to fear it. He figured, why not link it to something people already fear: Black people — particularly Black men.

And so, the propaganda began. Anslinger sparked a national anti-cannabis movement by tying cannabis usage to the Black community and other marginalized groups. 

Obviously, Anslinger didn’t invent racism, but his propaganda propagated and amplified it. In short, Anslinger used the lie that Black men are dangerous to help make cannabis illegal, and then he weaponized cannabis against minority communities. 

To this day, people of color are disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. In fact, though Black and white people use cannabis at similar rates, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession. And, as industry professionals, we need to understand the racist roots behind the stigma of cannabis and do our part to elevate those groups disproportionately and unfairly impacted by the war on drugs.

#2: Cannabis Is Dangerous

Using fear of Black men, Anslinger convinced people that cannabis was dangerous. The idea that cannabis makes people dangerous is ludicrous to me. I grew up during the war on drugs, and I bought into many of the lies. I truly believed cannabis was bad, but never once did I think of cannabis users as dangerous. 

As a child, I spent time around both alcoholics and cannabis users, and the difference was clear to me. Drunk people were violent, abusive, and dangerous. High people were safe, normal, and most importantly not violent.

However, in the drug education I received, I learned that all drugs are fundamentally bad, with no differentiation. Cannabis, meth, heroin, LSD, cocaine — they were all grouped together. And even when people acknowledged that cannabis was less harmful and addictive than harder drugs, they emphasized that it was still incredibly dangerous because it was a “gateway drug.” 

Today, despite all the evidence that cannabis is safe for most people, the lie persists. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and meth. 

As a country, it’s long past time that we focused our attention on true dangers. As a cannabis retailer, it’s important to recognize that even though you know cannabis is not dangerous, your customers might not.

#3: Opioids Are Safe

Because of the lie that cannabis is dangerous, it was not normalized (or legal) as a method of pain management. There was a need for pain management, though, and so in 1996, Purdue Pharma, under the direction of the Sackler family, developed and patented OxyContin. 

It was hailed as a miracle drug that took all the pain away, as if by magic. Magic often comes at a cost, though, and in this case, the cost was hundreds of thousands of American lives — more than five hundred thousand, to be specific.

Within a few years, evidence emerged that the drug was addictive and led to overdose deaths. While we were all being told that cannabis was the gateway drug, Purdue Pharma was flooding our country with the real gateway drug—opioids. They funded research studies that supported the use of OxyContin, and Richard Sackler put intense pressure on sales managers to sell more.

This Big Lie has harmed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Opioids destroy lives, and the ripples extend beyond the addict alone. An entire generation of children will be shaped by addiction and the absence of their parents. 

You may not be personally connected to the Opioid Endemic, but as a cannabis retailer, you are in the business of pain management. By understanding this Big Lie and providing people with an alternative to addictive opioids, you could literally save lives.

#4: Addiction Is the Addict’s Fault

I understand the impulse to blame addiction on the addict. An addict’s struggles with addiction can be enough to tear their loved ones apart inside. You want to scream, “Why can’t you just quit?” But blaming addiction on the addict makes as much sense as blaming someone for having cancer, asthma, or migraines.

Who is responsible for addiction, then? The people who caused the Opioid Endemic, people like the Sackler family. As Patrick Radden Keefe puts it in Empire of Pain, “Prior to the introduction of OxyContin, America did not have an opioid crisis. After the introduction of OxyContin, it did.”

So, if you want to blame someone for addiction, blame the Sacklers. Blame Big Pharma. Blame the people who knew this drug was addictive but lied to us, told us it was safe, and pumped it into our communities.

Every single person I know who got addicted received their first pill or hit from a trusted source. This is how the Opioid Epidemic started. It didn’t start with irresponsible drug dealers on the street. It started between patients and doctors. Opioids moved through our world via trusted sources.

Cannabis and opioids are very different drugs. Cannabis is far safer than many people realize. Due to the nature of cannabis, I do not believe cannabis retailers will be creating addicts the way Purdue Pharma did, but it’s still important to understand this Big Lie because some of your customers may have struggled with addiction and need compassion from you.

The Consequences of These Lies

These Big Lies are all connected. Without racism, cannabis wouldn’t have been stigmatized. Without the stigma against cannabis, we would have had a nonaddictive alternative to opioids. Without the lies that opioids are safe and that addicts are to blame for addiction, hundreds of thousands more people would still be alive today.

When it comes to breaking the stigma, you are on the front lines. In knowing the truth about where the stigma came from and why it’s so harmful, you can begin to change it. 

One customer at a time, you can begin to undo the Big Lies and share the reality of cannabis.

For more advice on how to undo the Big Lies and share the Big Truths of cannabis, you can find Breaking the Stigma on Amazon.

Charlena Berry is the author of Breaking the Stigma: Racism, Lies, the Opioid Endemic, and Inviting Grandma to the Dispensary. In this book, she exposes lies that created the stigmas associated with cannabis, and how these stigmas must be addressed to see continued growth in the marketplace. She then outlines a framework that provides key strategies for retailers to implement to improve the customer experience and increase profitability. 

Writing from her experiences in the industry, Charlena is a global cannabis business executive and the founder of Cannabis Business Growth, a premier cannabis business consulting firm. Prior to that, she spent more than a decade in Supply Chain and Retail Operations for Fortune 500 companies like Whirlpool and Office Depot/Office Max. She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer for The Cake House, a chain of dispensaries in Southern California.

Midsummer Movement: The Pre-August Recess Rush in D.C.

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By Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations

As Congress gets ready to beat the D.C. heat and leave Washington for their annual August recess, there’s at least one thing on their minds: cannabis. 

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) along with Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced their much anticipated Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which is now the Senate’s only pending legislation that would provide comprehensive cannabis policy reforms across the nation.

The landmark bill would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act and move regulatory responsibility from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other agencies to protect public health and safety. The bill would also institute a federal excise tax of 5-25% on cannabis on top of the already-hefty state taxes imposed on the industry, concerning advocates for small cannabis businesses and equity operators.

The long-awaited CAOA was introduced after sponsors circulated a discussion draft last year. NCIA and other advocacy organizations provided comprehensive feedback to the bill’s authors last year. Notable changes to the legislation include:

  • Increases the permissible THC by dry weight from the current 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent and refines the definition of “hemp,” and consequently “cannabis” by taking into account the total THC in a cannabis product, rather than just delta-9 THC. 
  • Changes to the weight quantity to qualify a person for felony cannabis distribution or possession charge under the section from 10 pounds to 20 pounds. 
  • Provides that a court shall automatically, after a sentencing review, expunge each federal cannabis conviction, vacate any remaining sentence, and resentence the defendant as if this law had been in place prior to the original sentencing. 
  • Enables a noncitizen who has received a deportation order based on a cannabis-related offense to file a motion to reconsider that decision. If the motion to reconsider is filed within 30 days of the removal order, the motion may allow for the cancellation of the deportation order. 
  • Establishes a new 10-year intermediary lending pilot program in which SBA would make direct loans to eligible intermediaries that in turn make small business loans to startups, businesses owned by individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs, and socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses. 
  • Removes the requirement to maintain a bond for any cannabis business that had less than $100,000 in excise tax liability in the prior year and reasonably expects excise tax liability in the current year to be below such amount. 
  • Incorporates rules similar to rules currently applicable to permitted malt beverage producers and wholesalers.

While the historic nature of the CAOA cannot be understated, the bill has a multitude of challenges ahead of it. Not all Senate Democrats support the legislation, making the 60-vote filibuster threshold nearly impossible. Plus, with only a couple dozen legislative days between now and the end of the session, time is also working against advocates. 

Dovetailing with the introduction of the CAOA, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism will hold a hearing titled “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms” this Tuesday. While the witness list has not been made public as of publication, expect the hearing to focus on the newly introduced legislation and how it would affect communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

In other news, the House and Senate will vote on a revised research bill, the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act, this week. The bill is expected to pass both chambers and be sent to President Biden’s desk for his signature. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and passed by unanimous consent in March. The House bill is sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD), and passed 343-75 in April. One of the notable areas of compromise? The House bill would have allowed researchers to do their studies on cannabis that’s actually being sold to consumers in dispensaries. That was removed during negotiations, meaning that researchers will still have to obtain their cannabis from the University of Mississippi’s cultivation facility.  

There’s still time before recess begins, so make sure you stay tuned to NCIA’s podcast, social media, and newsletter to stay up-to-date on all the latest from Washington, D.C.! Interested in making more of an impact? Don’t forget to register for our upcoming 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days on September 13-14, 2022!


Making History In Congress, Thanks To NCIA Members!

by Aaron Smith, NCIA’s CEO and Co-founder

History was made today as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act which would finally remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act and begin the process of federal regulation.

For the last year, NCIA has been working behind the scenes to ensure this landmark legislation not only ends prohibition but also creates an environment where small and medium-sized businesses can thrive under national legalization. These businesses – who we now call “Main Street Cannabis” – are the heart of our industry and we’re proud to have been giving them a seat at the table in our nation’s halls of power for over 12 years.

We will continue working with our allies in the Senate to advance this bill and advocate for some necessary amendments to better ensure that small, equity, and women-owned businesses (in particular) are well-positioned to thrive after the end of federal prohibition.

We would not be where we are today if not for your support which has allowed us to effectively represent the interests of small businesses like yours in the halls of Congress and in the court of national public opinion.

I hope you’ll join us in making national legalization a reality by making your voice heard at our upcoming 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days in Washington, D.C. September 13 & 14! 

Thanks to your membership, NCIA’s government relations staff represents Main Street Cannabis in D.C. every day but Lobby Days is your chance to show up and tell your unique story to our nation’s lawmakers, firsthand. 

Lobby Days is also the best opportunity to connect with your fellow industry leaders who are truly invested in the future of cannabis and sensible national policy. Please register today so you don’t miss out on making history with us! Reach out to my colleague Madeline Grant to learn more about how you can be as impactful as possible at this year’s Lobby Days. 

Thanks, as always, to all NCIA members for their support of the cannabis industry. If your company is not yet a member of NCIA, now’s the time to join and have your voice heard in the halls of Congress.

Watch this video update with Aaron Smith and Michelle Rutter Friberg:

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, July 14, 2022

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.


Positioned for Success – Highlights from the Insights & Influencers: NY Opportunity Tour

Any cannabis insider knows that New York is poised to become the next cannabis epicenter since legalizing last year. As such there is naturally incredible interest in learning about the business opportunities, how to best position yourself for success, as well as networking with potential future partners and clients. To meet these needs for our members and supporters, NCIA hosted the “Insights & Influencers: NY Opportunity Tour”, a weeklong series of events across New York featuring stops in Rochester, Albany and Brooklyn in partnership with founding members Canna Advisors, a trusted advisor to cannabis entrepreneurs who are starting or expanding a cannabis business.

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

Returning with our first in person events of the year, we couldn’t have been more thrilled to meet face-to-face with nearly 150 attendees who were either current or prospective business owners operating in New York and interested in expanding their operations or trying to break into the industry. With stops in Rochester, Albany, and New York City, the events brought together attendees from across the Empire State to not only learn about the developing regulatory landscape and opportunities to get involved with the burgeoning cannabis industry, but also the latest developments with NCIA’s work on federal cannabis policy.

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

Speakers were NCIA CEO and co-founder Aaron Smith and representatives from Canna Advisors including ​​Bob Wagener, Vice President of Real Estate Development; Sumer Thomas, Director of Regulatory Operations; and Vincent DiMichele, Regulatory Content Manager. During the hour long presentation, numerous topics were covered that were relevant to business owners in the cannabis industry such as:

• The possibility of federal legalization and the work NCIA is doing to ensure small — or “main street” — cannabis businesses have a seat at the table as legislation is written

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

• Benefits of starting the license application process early and the importance of community engagement efforts

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

• Understanding zoning requirements and ensuring your business can operate in the best location possible

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

• Developing staffing needs and protocols so the team behind your operations is positioned for success and growth

• Engaging in public comment periods including the New York Office of Cannabis Management’s (OCM) current 60 day comment period open now through August 15 surrounding regulations for packaging, labeling, marketing, advertising, and laboratory testing of adult-use cannabis

Throughout the tour, representatives from the OCM were on-site to chat with participants, answer questions that attendees had, and generally get to know those interested in owning or operating a cannabis related business in the state. We are proud to facilitate those connections at our events time and time again, so that regulators and business owners alike can meet in person to build relationships which in turn helps break down the barriers to communication down the line.

Nevillene White, Manager of Community Relations and External Affairs for OCM, joined our Albany gathering right next door to The Egg performing arts venue located inside of Empire State Plaza. Throughout she was able to supplement the presentation by providing comments directly to crowd feedback during updates on the licensing process in the Capitol.

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

Trivette Knowles, Press Officer and Manager of Community Outreach for the OCM, was present in Brooklyn and commented ”We need more events like this to show people that cannabis touches all walks of life,” he said. “It’s part of the culture.”

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

NCIA’s Aaron Smith closed out each of the events with a final call to action for everyone in the room: Contact New York’s U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to urge them to support the SAFE Banking Act and bring it to the floor for a vote. As the Majority Leader in the Senate, Sen. Schumer has the power to allow the legislation to be voted on but has not done so, stating a preference for more comprehensive legislation. Smith also discussed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which addresses federal legalization on a broader scale. A final version of that bill is still yet to be introduced however, and passage of the SAFE Banking Act would provide protections to financial institutions working with cannabis business and would have a positive impact on the cannabis industry while support for CAOA and comprehensive reform builds in Congress.

Of course we encourage anyone reading to take this call to action even further, and plan to join NCIA at our upcoming 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days from September 13-14 in Washington, D.C. Find out more details and register online here.

We can’t thank all our members and supporters who attended the events on our “Insights & Influencers: NY Opportunity Tour” enough, as well as our co-hosts, Canna Advisors, for making these events possible!



For additional coverage, be sure to check out the piece published by Honeysuckle Magazine, our exclusive media partners for the events.

(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.
(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.
(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.
(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.
(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.
(C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

Interested in attending our next in-person event this Summer? Register now for the Colorado Industry Social taking place on Thursday, July 28 in Denver, CO.

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Member Blog: As a Leader, You’re in the Business of Talent. That Means Your Top Priority Should Be Your People.

By Charlena Berry, Cannabis Business Growth

The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.

As a leader (especially a leader in the cannabis industry), you’re in the business of talent — identifying it, hiring it, developing it, and retaining it. Your top priority should thus be your people.

The first place to look to see if you have a people problem in your company is employee turnover. You can’t (and shouldn’t want to) completely avoid turnover, as it’s natural for some employees to move on and, occasionally, you will make hiring mistakes and need to let people go. 

However, if you have high employee turnover — say, as high as 20 to 30 percent over the course of a year — it’s a sign you have an illness in your company. While this figure may seem low, traditional retailers aim for an even lower turnover rate. To calculate turnover, divide the number of employees that left the company by the total number of employees. For instance, if 30 employees out of 100 employees leave in the course of a year, your turnover is 30 percent.

If your employees don’t want to work at your store, do you think they’re going to create the kind of environment that customers want to shop in? Probably not. And if a good portion of your employees are in training and don’t yet know what they’re doing, is that going to create a delightful customer experience? Again, probably not. 

The good news is that there are steps you can take — which I’ll share with you here — to reduce turnover and prioritize your people. Ultimately, by implementing some or all of these strategies, you’ll be able to offer your people the greatest possible experience. That will benefit not just them, but your organization and your customers as well.

Adopt the Leadership Mindset

Many factors can contribute to turnover. If you’re not offering compensation and perks that are on par with other cannabis retailers in your area, for instance, you’re likely to lose employees. 

The biggest factor, though, is leadership. You might have heard the saying before that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. If your management team makes employees miserable or doesn’t make them feel valued, they’ll leave. 

If, on the other hand, you adopt the leadership mindset and take the time to train managers to form a personal connection, be curious, empower, develop, and inspire your employees, they’re more likely to stay because those elements create a rewarding, enjoyable work environment.

Promote From Within

It’s also critical that you establish a practice of promoting from within. If your employees don’t see any growth opportunities within your company, they will be forced to leave to progress in their careers. 

Promoting from within also just makes good business sense. Who knows your store and your company culture better than the people who already work there? When you promote an employee to a leadership position, they can hit the ground running. 

Especially as you scale, promoting from within is key to implementing a seamless customer experience across multiple locations. When a role is empty, it disrupts the continuity of operations. Imagine a ship whose captain is swept overboard. You need a second-in-command ready to step up and fill the role.

Focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

As you hire and build paths to leadership positions for your employees, keep diversity, inclusion, and equity in mind. With the long history of people of color being disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, the very least we can do as retailers is ensure we are being fair and creating opportunities in our hiring and promoting practices. 

Plus, diversity leads to better business results! McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity in executive teams outperformed those in the bottom quartile by 36 percent.

Understand When to Let People Go

As unpleasant as it can be, the final aspect of managing the talent of your company is understanding when to let people go. Every employee is a representation of your company and contributes to the customer experience. You can’t afford to have subpar employees when you could put someone incredible in that role — someone who will make a difference in terms of how customers think and feel about you.

If a team member isn’t living up to the expectations of a role, you need to provide clear, regular feedback about what needs to change. Employ your curiosity and ask leading questions to try to mold them into the role: Why do you do things that way? Have you thought about other ways to do it? What if you tried x or y

If after several months, they’re still failing to meet expectations, they’re probably not a good fit for the role. At that point, you can either try to find a different role for them if you think they could still make a valuable contribution or let them go. You can’t expect people to magically know everything they need to know and perform well in a role without guidance and training, but you also can’t expect everyone to be a good fit.

Turnover is Expensive

Bottom line, turnover is expensive, both financially and culturally. Every time an employee leaves, you have to pay the costs of onboarding and training a new employee. According to Gallup, that cost can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.

It’s far cheaper — and results in a better customer experience — to retain and develop your current employees. Turnover also damages your company culture. When you have many empty positions or many new employees in training, it increases the pressure and stress on your veteran employees. It can trigger a wildfire of employees leaving, which lowers morale and disrupts team dynamics.

As a leader, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae — emails to answer, decisions to make, spreadsheets to review. Those tasks are important, but the area where you can have the most impact is in people’s development. When you put people first, it’s like dropping a rock into a still pond, spreading ripples throughout the company.

For more advice on actionable strategies you can implement that put your people first, you can find Breaking the Stigma on Amazon.

Charlena Berry is the author of Breaking the Stigma: Racism, Lies, the Opioid Endemic, and Inviting Grandma to the Dispensary. In this book, she exposes lies that created the stigmas associated with cannabis, and how these stigmas must be addressed to see continued growth in the marketplace. She then outlines a framework that provides key strategies for retailers to implement to improve the customer experience and increase profitability. 

Writing from her experiences in the industry, Charlena is a global cannabis business executive and the founder of Cannabis Business Growth, a premier cannabis business consulting firm. Prior to that, she spent more than a decade in Supply Chain and Retail Operations for Fortune 500 companies like Whirlpool and Office Depot/Office Max. She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer for The Cake House, a chain of dispensaries in Southern California.

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!


Equity Member Spotlight: Urban Flavours – John Quinn III

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 was in education for 16 years, most recently as a Dean of Students, before working full-time in cannabis. I met our CEO in college in 2001 and we became close friends. His company has taken off recently and he asked me to join his team. I’m excited to help lead Urban Flavours into the next phase of growth.

Urban Flavours is a minority-owned small business based out of Oakland, CA. Founded by Josephus Stallworth with the help of his sister and our Vice President, Marina Stallworth in 2016, Urban Flavours has emerged as a leader in the City of Oakland’s Equity Program. Fully operational in over 200 cities, we employ individuals who have been severely impacted by the United States’ “war on drugs.” We aim to provide a liveable wage for all employees, as well as advancement opportunities and ownership for people of color; especially for the formerly incarcerated. We demand a safe space in the cannabis industry for marginalized individuals and communities. For the culture.

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

Urban Flavours has a deep understanding of the culture of cannabis, especially here in Oakland. We aim to provide the highest quality cannabis at the most affordable price. We have a wide reach, stretching from Sacramento to Fresno on a daily basis. Our relationships with top farmers and distribution operations allow us to offer competitive pricing on the industry’s top brands.

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

I would like to see more minority and women-owned businesses fully operational and successful, wherever cannabis business is being done. I want cannabis to be a safe space for black men. I want the liberation of individuals incarcerated for cannabis. I want to see a community of cannabis built around sharing resources with an emphasis on unity, empathy, and generational wealth.

I also want to see the national narrative around cannabis shift to healing, joy, and peace. It’s truly an incredible plant that has many physically, mentally, and emotionally healing properties.

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

I would like to see some changes in legislation. As we move operations into other states, it’s almost impossible to recreate the supply chain we’ve established in California. Once interstate commerce is approved, we can reach more communities that are aligned with our core values, mission, and vision. I would also like to see a banking system solution. For me, it’s a safety issue.

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

We joined NCIA because we see ourselves operating at a national level eventually and the sense of community and desire to help us achieve our goals was evident from the beginning. The most important part about being a member through the Social Equity Scholarship Program is the opportunity to connect with a community of like-minded individuals. The weekly “Power Hour” call has given me legitimate connections and thought partnership that has helped grow our business, brand, and network. I know that Mike and that group have my back and best interests in mind. It feels good to be connected to the group.


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.


Member Blog: Illinois Adult-Use Dispensary Applicants Hope Licensing Process Doesn’t Go Up in Smoke

by Andrew M. Halbert, Fox Rothschild

Recently, after delays in issuing any adult-use dispensary licenses, Illinois has attempted to push ahead with simplifying the application and issuance process. Interestingly, this has occurred even as recent developments in ongoing litigation indicate potential further delays in issuing the previously awarded licenses that are currently in limbo, and in one case, even threaten to upend the entire process.

Delays and Initial Lottery Announcement

On September 3, 2020, after multiple delays, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Responsibility (“IDFPR”) announced the application scoring results for the initial 75 new adult-use dispensary licenses to be issued under the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (the “Act”). Only 21 of the 900-plus applicant groups had achieved a perfect score, and the available licenses would be awarded via a series of lotteries involving only those applicants. Although all 21 applicants with a perfect score were deemed too qualified for “social equity” status under the Act, there were public allegations that only 13 of the 21 accepted applicants were actually owned and controlled by people of color. 

Faced with multiple lawsuits claiming various flaws in the process, the Governor suspended the initial lottery. He announced that IDFPR would distribute Supplemental Deficiency Notices explaining where applicants missed out on points, and providing an opportunity to correct any identified issues. Unfortunately, this satisfied neither the excluded applicants nor those applicants who had already received a perfect score, and litigation continued. As of May 1, 2022, none of the proposed new adult-use licenses have been issued. 

HB 1443 and New Lotteries

In July 2021, the Illinois legislature adopted H.B. 1443 in an attempt to address social equity concerns and expedite the issuance of dispensary licenses. It established procedures for three adult-use dispensary lotteries to occur in July and August of 2021, in which a total of 185 adult-use dispensary licenses were to be issued. 

The first lottery, for 55 new licenses, included only applicants that received 85% or more of the available points. The second lottery, also for 55 additional licenses, included applicants that received a score of 85% or higher and met the ownership and control requirements for Social Equity Applicants. Applicants that qualified for social equity status solely by hiring qualifying employees were excluded from this lottery. The final lottery, for the original 75 licenses, included the 21 applicants who initially received a perfect score, as well as an additional 134 applicants who perfected their application using the Supplemental Deficiency Notice process. Although IDFPR announced the winners, none of the licenses have been awarded yet due to the ongoing litigation.

More recently, on March 15, 2022, Governor Pritzker announced another planned lottery process to occur later this year to award 50 new adult-use dispensary licenses. The proposed rules governing this process were released on March 25, 2022, and include a new, simplified online application process and an administrative review provision designed to help address issues without the need for litigation. 

Status of Litigation

As Illinois attempts to streamline its processes, three different ongoing lawsuits involving Illinois dispensary licenses have continued to progress, one of which threatens to upend the entire lottery process. 

First, Wah v. IDFPR claims that the additional points given to veteran-owned applicants create a special class of applicants in violation of the Illinois constitution. The most recent relevant development, in this case, was the stay order that prevents IDFPR from issuing any of the 185 dispensary licenses until the issues raised in Wah have been resolved, which remains in place.  

A second lawsuit, which is really a group of fourteen different lawsuits involving dozens of plaintiffs consolidated into one “supercase,” challenges the application process on the basis of alleged violations of Illinois administrative law, and asks that the plaintiffs be provided additional licenses beyond the 185 currently allocated. The judge in that case recently had the opportunity to take control over the stay in Wah, but declined. As a result, the resolution of this case will affect only the parties to the case, and will not affect the larger issue of the stayed licenses. At a recent hearing, the parties discussed a supplemental lottery process for the plaintiffs that would attempt to recreate the odds that those plaintiffs would have faced in the original lottery, had their applications not been improperly excluded, and the fact that plaintiffs would need to succeed in that lottery in order to have a viable claim to a license. IDFPR and the judge indicated their belief that this lottery should occur soon so that unsuccessful plaintiffs could avoid further litigation costs. However, not all plaintiffs were amenable to this proposal, raising the issue that if none of the plaintiffs were successful in the proposed lottery, IDFPR might never be held to account for any flaws in the application process. 

Finally, a third case was recently filed that could upend the entire licensing process. That case, Finch, et al. v. Mario Tretor, Acting Secretary of IDFPR, 1:22-cv-0158 (N.D. Illinois, March 23, 2002), claims that granting additional application points to Illinois residents (as well as the Illinois residency requirements included in the qualifications for social equity status) should be deemed unconstitutional under what is known as the “dormant commerce clause” because it unfairly discriminates against residents of other states. The plaintiffs in Finch have already won a similar case in federal court challenging similar requirements in Missouri, so those watching the case closely are concerned that this court may reach a similar result. In addition, because this case challenges the constitutionality of the entire scoring process, a win for the plaintiffs could mean a reset for the entire licensing process, even affecting those 185 licenses that have already been awarded. 

All that interested Illinois applicants can do now is wait, and hope that these issues are resolved soon and licenses are finally released. Once that happens, expect a flurry of activity as those lucky enough to receive a license seek capital and expertise, with some likely to explore options for selling their newly-acquired license.  

Andrew Halbert is a member of the National Cannabis Law Practice at Fox Rothschild LLP, based in its Chicago office. He focuses his practice on representing public and private clients, including cannabis companies, in a broad range of transactions including: state and local cannabis regulatory and licensing transactions; stock and asset acquisitions and divestitures; mergers; tender offers; private equity investments; reorganizations; private offerings; and financing transactions facilitated through the issuance of equity and debt securities.




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: 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.

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.

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Equity Member Spotlight: Puff Couture LLC – LaVonne Turner

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 LaVonne Turner, President of PUFF COUTURE LLC. Before my interest in cannabis, my career was focused on marketing, communications, public relations, event management, and community advocacy. After working for non-profit and for-profit organizations, I became increasingly interested in public policy and community advocacy to help the underprivileged and unrepresented. I hold a bachelor’s degree in executive leadership/marketing, a master’s in public administration, and currently working on a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. I am a block club president and serve on a couple of boards and committees. I have spent many years mentoring children and youth.

 My journey into the cannabis industry as an entrepreneur started when my mother began experiencing debilitating pain, and her only relief was prescribed medication. While I still haven’t found the right product to deal with her pain, I have taken great interest in the industry and the incredible products born from seeds. I plan to open a microbusiness and consumption lounge in Detroit, MI, that serves aromatic, exotic strains and infused products.

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

PUFF COUTURE LLC is a minority-woman-owned cannabis company slated to open a microbusiness and consumption lounge in Detroit. We want to bring a sophisticated community-driven cannabis business that offers a contemporary atmosphere for clients. It will convey the importance of the cannabis flower by providing a chilled environment for clients to consume unique, flavorful, and aromatic cannabis. PUFF COUTURE will support mental health counseling, volunteerism, public policy, and minority representation in the cannabis industry, especially among women. According to a recent special report by MJBbizDaily Women and Minority Report, only 3.8% of Blacks or African Americans are cannabis business owners, the percentage of minority women in Michigan is even smaller; our responsibility is to open doors for future female entrepreneurs and people of color.

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

PUFF COUTURE LLC would like to change the face of cannabis through participation and contributions to critical public issues that affect the community values of our clients and neighbors, as well as giving back through donations and mentoring. The organization will support issues affecting women who suffer from traumatic situations through our community advocacy campaign. Still, there will be plenty of time for spoken word, intimate art shows, parties, etc. PUFF COUTURE will take care of our people, support the cannabis industry, and create an atmosphere of excitement.

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

A few years ago, I couldn’t get anyone to advise me or take the time to mentor me. However, after many no’s, I have been blessed to partake in the City of Detroit’s Homegrown cannabis program and training by the Detroit Cannabis Project. LUME’s Vice President of Retail Operations, Michael Dowdell, has taken the time to speak with me and allowed me to observe the business sales and operations of one of the company’s recreational and medical stores. That first opportunity let me know I could continue to grow in the cannabis industry given a chance.

I have continued to expand my knowledge about cannabis, staffing, and cultivation through a mentorship provided by one of the award-winning co-owners of Oak Canna, LLC/CannaBoys, Jason Tueni. Mr. Tueni has devoted a great deal of time to educating me about caring for the flowers at every growth stage. I am currently interning at the cultivation center, which allows me to see everything first-hand, e.g., flowers, business, human resources, all aspects of creating and running a successful microbusiness and consumption lounge. These types of opportunities should be more readily available. I often hear people complain about not having access to mentors, which I completely understand. I joined the CRA DEI workgroup and from there was able to make a connection to LUME and Mr. Dowdell, who by the way is African American, and I asked for the opportunity. I did the same thing with Mr. Tueni. I was at a Weedmaps event and started talking to people and let them know I was looking for a mentor and from there, introductions were made. We met a few times for two to three hours, a couple of months after, and I asked if I could intern at the cultivation center and he said yes. We continue to meet, although not as often, and I see him on a regular basis. Hopefully, when the time is right, we will partner on a project.

Both of these events have provided a great deal of information for me in preparation for my future cannabis venture and I won’t stop reaching out for more knowledge and advice. Knowing how mentorship has helped me, I will continue to look for opportunities to build my business and while doing so pay it forward by mentoring future Detroiters interested in the cannabis industry. As important is my need to stay involved in public policy and community advocacy.

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

I joined the NCIA to learn and network. Through the social equity scholarship, I serve on the DEI Committee and am also serving on the Cannabis Regulatory Agency-DEI Workgroup for the state of Michigan. The weekly social equity meetings held by the DEI Director are informative and build camaraderie among social equity entrepreneurs. The added weekly conversations help push to get to the finish line. I believe many social equity members will have an opportunity to work together in the future.

I look forward to growing with the National Cannabis Industry Association. 


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

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

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

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. 

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