The Equity Workshop Tour: Impactful Conversations with Regulators

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager

Part 1 of a Blog Series Recapping the Equity Workshop Tour – Spring 2023

I believe that the cannabis industry needs intimate and dynamic events, particularly if we are to build in an equitable and diverse fashion, and that’s why I embarked on the Equity Workshop Tour, navigating countless obstacles along the way.

After completing the four workshops that comprised the Tour, that belief has been validated, with several additional takeaways.

As part of each workshop, we conducted panel discussions with representatives of state and city regulatory agencies and advocacy organizations.

These conversations were especially illuminating for me, as I got to witness firsthand the ways in which regulators and advocates have been working together in each of these states, with the same mission of equity front and center.


In New Jersey, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) recognizes the need for input from stakeholders, and our intimate panel discussion, with a high level of audience participation, offered exactly that. 

Hearing the “origin stories” of CRC Vice Chair Samuel Delgado and CRC Commissioner Charles Barker is a large part of why I believe we have a chance at an equitable industry. Because at the end of the day, we have solid allies within the halls of government, who share our mission.

I was very encouraged to learn about a state that appears to be outpacing other states in the drive to stand up an equitable industry. There does, however, appear to be a lot of work that needs to be done on the municipal level. This is where advocacy organizations, like NCIA, and stakeholders must work together to educate local regulators in order for expeditious and equitable permitting processes to unfold. I believe that NCIA’s committees can provide support in this area, as we have previously, by providing written or verbal testimony on specific matters that municipalities are still unaware of.

It was also illuminating to understand the role that service-disabled veterans play in the industry, as pointed out by Osbert Orduna (of NHCC and SDVICA). Nichelle Santos (M4MM) also contributed valuable insights to this panel discussion.


Illinois is a state that has drawn the ire of many. While the legislation was the first to include equitable provisions, the implementation has been challenging, and many people have lost a lot. 

That said, as opposed to the nascent and scattered approach of advocacy I witnessed here a few years back, it’s very encouraging to see advocacy organizations working together on the same page, developing a collaborative working relationship with one another and the regulators. A big shoutout to Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition (CEIC) for their role in this. (check out this recent Catalyst Conversation to learn more about their work)

It seems that a consolidation of Cannabis oversight into a singular agency with its own power to regulate the industry is needed. There are currently 17 agencies with a role in Illinois’ industry, and the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Oversight Officer serves as a limited version of a centralized agency, without the power to enact the implementations everyone seems to know are needed.

I encourage you to tap in with CEIC, SEEN, and ULCIA to learn more about how you can help with the priorities they’ve identified are necessary to create an equitable industry in Illinois.


In New York, there is a need for more transparency, which it seems the Office of Cannabis Management recognizes and is headed in that direction. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it here. OCM has a difficult job, balancing the directives from those above it, with the needs of the stakeholders. As Tabatha Robinson, OCM’s Deputy Director for Economic Development Policy and Research, pointed out during the panel, OCM is made up of several dedicated people who go above and beyond because they believe in creating an equitable industry. As advocates, our challenge lies in balancing the above understanding while also ensuring that the government is held accountable for its promises

Shanduke McPhatter, a CAURD licensee who represented the NY CAURD Coalition on the panel, said it best when he advocated for greater transparency in the process. He reminded us that patience is not the issue for those who have served time, as they’ve learned patience the hard way already. But while being patient, there is a need for greater transparency from the state. A large part of this has to do with the major lack of transparency from the Dormitory Authority of the State of NY (DASNY), which also impacts OCM and their ability to operate properly. It seems like it’s time for Ruben McDaniels and DASNY to stop playing games, but I’m not stating anything that everyone in New York doesn’t already know. 

Lastly, I appreciated Dr Adrian Adams (M4MM) and Scheril Murray Powell (JUSTUS) pointing out the importance of the industry to work together to find creative solutions. These types of discussions are a great starting point, but it’s how we collaborate on action items moving forward that will define our path forward.


In Detroit, our panel included NCIA Board Member Rebecca Colett, who has founded the Detroit Cannabis Project (DCP) as a mentorship group to support cannapreneurs on their journey. Thus far, that journey has mostly consisted of staying relevant and advocating properly while the myriad of municipal challenges have unfolded.

What stood out to me was the way in which Kim James and the City of Detroit’s Homegrown Cannabis Office have partnered with DCP, recognizing the need to support mentorship from the municipal level. As Detroit comes online, and as capital markets open back up to fund these new cannapreneurs, the participants in Detroit’s cannabis program will have a leg up on where they would’ve been without this type of holistic support.

Another interesting topic of conversation was led by Scheril Murray Powell, who provided an update on the work to support Legacy operators being conducted by ASTM and the JUSTUS Foundation. This includes advocating for a universal definition of “Legacy operator”, of which NCIA’s DEI Program is very supportive:

“An individual who: 1) Commercially for the majority of their income, or sacramentally, or ceremonially distributed cannabis; 2) Outside of the Legal Framework; 3) During the period of Prohibition; 4) For a minimum of 5 years before legalization.”

As part of the beginning of what will hopefully be a robust dialogue on this topic, NCIA Cultivation Committee member Joseph Smith pointed out the potential challenges for adopting such a standard in the state of Michigan, which had a caregiver program for a decade or so prior to legalization. 

I can’t wait to get back out to Michigan to see this constantly-evolving program.


My biggest takeaway is that no matter how many of these types of conversations we have, we need to continue having them and to continue pushing the ball forward. Cannabis is going to take several years to stand up properly, and equitably, so dialogue between advocates, business owners, and regulators is invaluable at this stage in the game. 

And the more cannabis entrepreneurs realize the importance of advocacy at this early stage, the more an equitable industry is possible.

My hope is that these panels, in the setting of the workshops, provide a forum for the right type of conversations, as well as inspiration for business owners as to how to advocate for themselves and others in a successful manner.


Special shoutout to our partner organizations, all of whom are working tirelessly to advocate for a more equitable industry. This includes: Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition; Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana; JUSTUS Foundation; National Hispanic Cannabis Council – Tristate Chapter; NYC NORML; Social Equity Empower Network; Service-Disabled Veterans in Cannabis Association; United Latino Cannabis Industry Alliance; Detroit Cannabis Project; NY CAURD Coalition; and Minority Cannabis Business Association

And big thank you to our sponsors, who understand the importance of creating these intimate conversations, for the sake of a resilient and equitable industry. Platinum Sponsor Dao Mastery; Gold Sponsors Grow America Builders and Etain; and Silver Sponsors Zenco Payments, Indiva Advisors, Cova, Jeffrey Hoffman & Associates PLLC, Mary Jane Consulting Group, Illinois Equity Staffing, Mackewich Legal Counsel, and Cannas Capital

Equity Member Spotlight – Back to D.C. for Lobby Days

by Mike Lomuto, DEI Manager

For the second time in nine months, NCIA’s DEI Program organized a DEI Delegation as part of our annual Lobby Days on Capitol Hill. 

The DEI Delegation consists of some of the foremost advocates for Social Equity from across the country. Their leadership within their state and local communities, as well as within NCIA’s Committee structure, greatly bolsters the lobbying efforts of our organization as a whole, all year round.

Our Delegates weighed in on the organization’s talking points ahead of the event, and then provided an important perspective on the Hill.  As part of NCIA’s lobbying on behalf of the industry, our members focused on SAFE Banking, 280E Reform, Comprehensive Legalization, Veterans Affairs, and more.

Thanks to TILT Holdings and Evergreen Market for sponsoring this very important initiative. 

As stakeholders in the cannabis industry, it is important that we learn how to also properly advocate for ourselves and for others from diverse communities around the country.

We’ve already begun raising funds for next year’s DEI Delegation. If you want to ensure the return of this initiative, while also receiving year-round recognition, reach out to

2023’s Lobby Days DEI Delegation:

Raina Jackson, Purple Raina; DEI Committee Organizer and Policy & Regs Subcommittee Chair
Dr. Adrian Adams, CGO at Northeast Extracts; NCIA’s DEI Committee; M4MM’s NY State Director
Vanessa Valdovinos, HUSH; NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee Organizer
Anthony Jenkins, Next Level Edibles; NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee


This is your first year as a Delegate. Why was it important to you to participate?


Participating in Lobby Days allowed me to contribute my personal experiences, expertise, and insights as someone running a small business in a highly regulated market. I wanted to have a voice in shaping legislation related to crucial topics that are important to me like providing an equitable pathway in the cannabis space. By being present at Lobby Days, I could truly contribute to the development of policies that would essentially help shape policies that promote a safe, inclusive, and thriving cannabis industry for the benefit of all.

You were a member of last year’s Delegation. Tell us why you chose to return this year, and how your experience last year influenced your game plan for this year.

Dr. Adrian:

Last year was more about figuring out who in each office was the one driving the cannabis policy car, if you will, meeting them where they were, and schooling them up. This year we did a better job as a small group in each office using each of our bios to tell an impactful story regarding the impact of SAFE Banking and 280E, and tying it to what some offices have done in their home district.


It was a wonderful experience to participate in Lobby Days 2023, especially after attending last September for the first time and learning so much. I appreciate that this year’s meetings were extended over two days, following in-person training at the glorious Michael Best Strategies office penthouse.

Like last year, I found that most Congressional staffers are quite open-minded and seek to understand our points of view to correctly convey them to the lawmakers they serve. I learned that we don’t have to agree on every single detail to come to a compromise, especially since the People have spoken and demand some form of safe cannabis access and decriminalization nationwide. Bipartisan efforts must match public opinion.

What were the main takeaways from your experience on Capitol Hill?


Most staffers were not familiar with 280E and how it disproportionately burdens cannabis businesses with paying upwards of 50 to 70% of revenue towards federal, state, and local taxes without the tax write-offs other industries enjoy at a 30% standard rate.The new proposed Small Business Tax Equity Act eliminating 280E for cannabis businesses would greatly improve the economic landscape, while still representing a net gain for the national economy. This credit would allow more businesses to stay afloat and continue to pay taxes at a more equitable rate over a longer period. Everybody wins!

Dr. Adrian:

SAFE Banking could potentially happen sooner than I thought if it originates from the Senate side. 


My main experience in Capitol Hill taught me that with planning and footwork, it is possible to reach elected officials, even highly ranked officials like US Senators.  And from the feedback we received from both Democrats and Republicans, most representatives are on board with all 3 (hemp updates, 280e reform, SAFE Banking).


One of my main takeaways from this experience was the immense value of hearing personal stories that shed light on the diverse perspectives within a highly regulated market. By listening to the struggles and triumphs shared by individuals, I gained a deeper understanding of the challenges we all face on a day-to-day basis. I also realized that by sharing our own truths and insights, we can provide invaluable perspectives that others can learn from. Personal stories have the ability to bridge gaps in understanding and create empathy, which are crucial for the progress of any industry.


An important component of Lobby Days is the in-person training session. This year, Reggie Babin provided some great insights. As the former Chief Counsel to Senator Charles Schumer, who worked directly on the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, his words resonated throughout the room and our lobbying efforts over the ensuing two days. One thing that stuck with me is when Reggie compared the ten years it had just taken to get reform through on a non-cannabis issue. That bill had strong sentimental support and near-unanimous public opinion on its side. Given that context, it made it clear that we’re on schedule for SAFE Banking. It also means we need to be pushing on other legislation that may likewise take many years to push through.

He also pointed out how any one conversation that we have could be the one that flips the vote that is the final domino on passing legislation. That’s why our stories are so important.

What did you learn from your experience that you’d like others to know?


As NCIA DEI Delegates we must control our own narratives and help illuminate the state of our industry by putting names and faces to our stories and sharing our triumphs and pain points. I’m glad we are revisiting the SAFE Banking Bill, which is vital to public safety and economic growth along the supply chain. It is paramount that the bill is passed in any version initially, with room for amendments to weave PLUS equity initiatives into the fabric. 

Dr. Adrian:

The circle of leaders at the top of the cannabis industry is relatively small and many of those folks attend the lobby days of groups like M4MM and NCIA. Your attendance is good for business as well as for the creation of informed public policy. 


Another important lesson I learned was the significance of building relationships. Engaging with lawmakers directly and sharing my own personal experiences and insights was a driving force for me. It was inspiring to witness their genuine interest in hearing directly from industry professionals. Establishing meaningful connections with policymakers is key so that our industry is properly understood and represented.


I learned that an impassioned personal message goes a lot further than you think. Which is why we need you next year. Because we need our officials to hear your story, and how these issues affect you, your business, and your family daily.

What’s something you loved about visiting D.C. outside of the Lobby Days activities?


It was the opportunity to connect with my fellow members on a deeper level that truly resonated with me. During our time together, I had the privilege of hearing their unique personal stories and gaining a deeper understanding of what had motivated them to participate in Lobby Days. These stories were inspiring and just reminded me of the incredible passion and dedication within our community.

The personal stories, the camaraderie, and the bonds we formed have created a network of support and friendship that extends far beyond the event itself. It was a truly special aspect of the trip that I will cherish for years to come.

Dr. Adrian:

Just seeing the unique D.C. cannabis market in action with entrepreneurs like Barry Doyle/Embers and others holding unique events. As Anthony Jenkins from San Francisco put it, “it was like seeing the future of cannabis in the U.S.”


I appreciated that this year my group had time between and after meetings to visit D.C. landmarks like the Botanical Garden, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, and the Washington Monument. I even extended my stay to experience the phenomenal National Museum of African American History and Culture.


The botanical garden was dope!

P.S. Something else I’d like to note is that in the weeks leading up to Lobby Days, I embarked on the Equity Workshop Tour, a series of workshops held in four cities, bringing together industry stakeholders, leaders, advocates, and regulators. This experience was highly informative for me to hear all these stories prior to our lobbying work in D.C. It was also great to see some of the same faces that I had seen across the Tour again in D.C!

Long-Awaited Cannabis Bills Introduced

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

Over the last few weeks, a number of cannabis bills were introduced in Congress: the long-anticipated SAFE Banking Act and the CLAIM Act were reintroduced in both chambers, while over in the House, the HOPE Act and 280E legislation dropped. Keep reading to find out more about these bills and the chances of them moving forward:

Finally… SAFE Banking

After the SAFE Banking Act failed to pass into law last session, advocates have been waiting with bated breath for the legislation’s reintroduction – with a particular interest in what changes may (or may not have) been made. 

In the Senate, the bill is being led again by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), while the House version is being spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) – both of whom are chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. 

While the bill does not contain wide-ranging revisions, there were some changes. These changes include adding language to explicitly apply the bill’s protections to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs), as well as ensuring that workers and operators in the cannabis industry are able to obtain federally backed mortgage loans. In response to concerns raised by some conservatives, this version also includes changes and clarifications intended to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies are able to fully enforce anti-money laundering statutes against unlawful operators.

NCIA is optimistic that the legislation will receive either a hearing or markup in the coming weeks and looks forward to this bill finally passing the Senate someday soon!


Also recently reintroduced was the Harnessing Opportunity by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act. First introduced last session, the bill was just dropped by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH). 

This bipartisan bill aims to help states with expunging cannabis offenses by reducing the financial and administrative burden of such efforts through federal grants. The overwhelming majority of cannabis-related charges are handled by state and local law enforcement and despite the fact that expungement programs for cannabis-related offenses have recently advanced in states and cities around the country, many criminal record-keeping systems are not ready for or able to support these efforts. 

The HOPE Act would address these complications by creating a new grant program under the U.S. Department of Justice, which would be authorized to make grants to states and local governments to reduce the financial and administrative burden of expunging convictions for cannabis offenses that are available to individuals who have been convicted of such offenses under the laws of the State.


Yet another bicameral, bipartisan piece of legislation was recently reintroduced: the Clarifying Laws Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act. Introduced in the House by Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) and in the Senate by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), the legislation would protect insurers, brokers, and agents from being penalized by federal regulators for providing insurance services to state-licensed marijuana companies.

Assuming that the SAFE Banking Act moves through “regular order” as expected, I would predict that many of the protections in the CLAIM Act get attached to SAFE. This is the third Congress that the CLAIM Act has been introduced.

Small Business Tax Equity Act

Everyone involved in the cannabis industry has heard of 280E, but many people were surprised to learn that legislation addressing the punitive measure was not introduced during the last congressional session. 

That changed a few weeks ago when Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with four of his colleagues introduced H.R. 2643: the Small Business Tax Equity Act, which exempts a trade or business that conducts cannabis sales in compliance with state law from IRC Section 280E. 

Abolishing 280E is one of NCIA’s main priorities, but unfortunately, the chances of this legislation passing standalone is little to none. We will continue to explore other vehicles which 280E reform may be attached to and seek to provide any tax relief we can to the legal cannabis industry. 

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity here in D.C. – and we don’t plan on slowing down ahead of NCIA’s 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days being held on May 16-18! Register today so that you’re a part of our virtual training sessions and we can begin planning your lobbying experience. 


Equity Member Spotlight: Taking Events to the Next Level

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager 

Events are a major way in which the culture of cannabis is preserved and evolves. With 4/20 upon us, we felt it appropriate for this column – which is all about staying true to the culture – to focus in on some of our members who specialize in innovative cannabis events.

For this celebratory month of 4/20, we’re checking in with:

Michael Webster, Founder & Managing Member of Falling Leaves Events, and new member of NCIA’s Banking & Financial Services Committee

Toni, Founder of Toni Consulting and Wellness, member of both NCIA’s Health Equity Working Group and Education Committee

And the ladies of HUSH

Kay Villamin, Co-Founder and Creative Director, and Chair of NCIA’s State Regulations Committee

Vanessa Valdovinos, Co-Founder and Director of Events, Organizer of NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee

Michael shares his infused fine dining and networking series. Toni spreads wellness through the community with her movement-based events that balance the endocannabinoid system and educate the mind. And Hush brings an innovative and highly professional approach to elevate cannabis experiences through their immersive events. 

We asked these three cannabis companies some questions about their events and the mission behind them. The journey is always part of the destination, and in this spotlight we get to hear about how these industry groundbreakers are bringing positive innovations to the culture, transforming it with each event. Read to the end to find out where to catch them next. 

What type of events do you throw?

MW: Our offerings have evolved with the Michigan adult-use market. While our early events were consumer-focused, we’ve become much more industry-focused, situating ourselves as a B2B connector in the event space. Our current event series, The Falling Leaves Infused Dinner Series, brings together operators, influencers, stakeholders, and allies of the Michigan cannabis industry for infused networking and fine dining. We are also working on a B2B cannabis industry expo to connect the many brands, cultivators, and processors here in Michigan.

Toni: I offer wellness events in the community that provide education highlighting the numerous wellness benefits and usages of the plant. My events are rooted in creating community awareness and solutions around the necessity of cannabis health equity policies.

HUSH: We host and produce high-level experiential events focused on providing immersive experiences with cannabis through interactive design, entertainment, and customized activations that provide creative ways to engage with the plant. From networking events to large conference afterparties and trade shows, we produce a wide range of experiences for brands in the industry.

What makes your events unique? 

MW: In a word – or two – Form Factor. Our choice to offer consumption via infused food and beverages is what truly sets us apart from other consumption events. Our networking component offers the opportunity to connect with other members of the industry, and has become quite an attractive feature. Our events feature a carefully curated guest list of folks targeted by sponsors to be in the room so the deals can get done. We have replicated the diplomatic dinner table, where, traditionally, wars have been averted, treaties signed, and industry deals secured. Instead of the smoky, tobacco-filled back rooms, we’re providing smoky, cannabis-filled rooms that feature equity and transparency.

Toni: I curate events that provide education in a way that helps to destigmatize the plant while highlighting its various wellness benefits and usage options, delivered through storytelling, movement, stillness, creative expression, and reflective practices.

HUSH: Every aspect and layout of our events is intentionally designed with the goals of innovation and impact. Our guest experience is first in mind from beginning to end – from accepting an invitation to when they leave the doors to go home – we think of every detail involved. We think of how we want our guests to feel when they enter and guide them in their entire journey, as well as how they can interact with the brands and sponsors we work with. We attract high-caliber, global majority leaders in the industry from all over the country.

How do you roll your mission and advocacy into your events?

MW: Beyond our core mission of equity in the regulated cannabis industry, championing normative integration of mindful, responsible public cannabis consumption remains our cause celebre. Having, in some ways, been chased from the licensed, regulated consumption event space by burdensome insurance regulations that render Michigan’s cannabis event organizer license effectively unviable, we have pivoted to the private event space as our front in this war against normalization. 

We perform a critical role in the Michigan cannabis ecosystem for the benefit of all. Our push for normalization eases pain points up and down the industry supply chain, from municipal hearings considering licensure to breaking stigmas and gaining acceptance from important community organizations intent on preventing harm outside of the supply chain.

Toni: My wellness events are rooted in creating community awareness and solutions around the necessity of cannabis health equity policies.

HUSH: Whether it’s our own hosted event or in collaboration with another brand, our goal is to highlight, serve, and work with fellow BIPOC and social equity brands in the industry. With this intention since inception, we’ve cultivated an audience that believes in the same mission. As part of our mission, we create world-class experiences that bridge the gap between small and big operators to collectively provide environments where we can normalize the consumption of cannabis. 

What can sponsors or attendees expect from the experience?

MW: Expectations from our sponsors and guests are high because that’s exactly where we set them. We operate on the more sophisticated end of the cannabis consumption event spectrum. Much like our dear friends over at HUSH Chicago, we seek to deliver an immersive experience that is powered by cannabis but involves much more. Sponsors can expect the highest level of quality engagement possible with attendees. A quote from Chris Hammond, Senior Sales Director at Kairos Labs, LLC, best captures expectations – This past weekend I went to an event hosted by Michael Webster MSc. The food was amazing, the ambience was perfect, and I got more quality contacts in one night than I have in a week at MJ Biz. Very excited for the next event!”

Toni: Sponsors and attendees can expect to learn about educational needs and ways to support wellness initiatives in communities most affected by the “war on drugs.” My goal is to spread knowledge for the betterment of communities, utilizing the old African proverb; Each One, Teach One. 

HUSH: Sponsors and attendees can expect to have all senses engaged when attending a Hush event. Each experience is different from the next as we create new ways to engage our guests. For our sponsors, we think of creative ways to activate their brand while keeping their goals in mind, and measuring metrics that will prove their return on investment. Guests and sponsors alike can expect a stark improvement on what was once considered a cannabis consumption event. Attendees should expect to pull up to the intersection of cannabis consumption and decadence, be greeted by grown folk maturity, and be prompted that it is indeed time to go home after our event, no matter how much they wish to stay.

How has being an NCIA member helped the development of your events?

MW: NCIA membership has been transformational. The ability to tap into a national network of eco-partners from disparate cannabis markets gets us out of our silos. We are influenced by empathy and shared resources. We are nurtured by the collective and dream with the expectation of an eventual common market in which to operate. Our events truly are the manifestation of the old African adage – “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Toni: NCIA has helped me identify the need for cannabis education and wellness initiatives in marginalized communities.

HUSH: Being part of NCIA has allowed our company to extend our reach beyond local and regional markets. Being a member of committees has enabled us to build relationships with a national group of leaders in the industry who became supporters and sponsors of our events. We have also received great mentoring and advice from other members. 

When and where should we expect to see you in the coming months?

MW: We continue to operate on a monthly cadence in the Metro Detroit area, but we are expanding into other municipalities in Michigan as well. In May we expect to take our show on the road and into the Show Me state. As a brand-new market, Missouri has tons of potential and can benefit from a healthy event market. Check out our website – –  and follow us on social @fallingleavesevents to learn about our upcoming events.

Toni: I have a new offering every other Tuesday in Oakland, CA at Snow Park. I will be leading Community Wellness Yoga where we experience movement for the endocannabinoid system with a live saxophonist. 

  • April 11th & 25th
  • May 9th & 23rd
  • June 6 & 20th

You can also catch me on my youtube channel or follow me on instagram @cannabisnursetoni for healthy-infused recipes, movement, and your daily dose of wellness. 

HUSH: We are hosting an afterparty for NECANN in Illinois on June 2nd and we are also excited to be working on a large cannabis career conference with 40Tons to take place at Malcolm X College in Chicago on Jun 19, 2023 Lookout for an announcement for a fun event in Q4 when we will be celebrating our 5th year anniversary!

NCIA Today – Thursday, April 6, 2023

Join NCIA Director of Communication Bethany Moore for an update on what’s going on with NCIA and our members. This week we discuss 13 women scientists you NEED to know, our recent podcast check-ins with members of the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, discuss a recent letter NCIA sent to the Congressional Banking and Finance Committees, and look forward to the remainder of our city events coast-to-coast leading up to Lobby Days in May.


Member Blog: Licensing 101 – A Guide for Local Cannabis Entrepreneurs

An interview with Nate Reed, Unity Rd. & Item 9 Labs

Curious about opening up a dispensary? Here we sit down with Nate Reed, Unity Rd.’s Director of Licensing, to answer commonly asked questions about one of the most crucial pieces to open a compliant dispensary in any market – obtaining a license on the local and state levels.

What Do I Need To Apply For a License? 

Let us start with the basics. In cannabis, every business venture is going to be looked at under a microscope.

First, it is wise to have a team at the ready. Having owners, executives or principals in place is essential to begin, both for paperwork purposes as well as the face of the organization that will be presented to regulators.

This does not mean having a store’s general manager in mind from the outset, but rather the high-level management that make major decisions.

In this regard, it is also wise to include leadership with qualities that are desirable for owners and managers in this industry—if it is not stated explicitly, look to read between the lines. Someone with prior cannabis experience is always first prize.

This includes anyone with relevant legal cannabis experience, such as someone who has run or owned a dispensary or headed up a cultivation operation. These folks will bring the most value when rounding out a team. 

Beyond that, license applicants will want to be able to demonstrate that they have a solid suite of business-minded staff. Some may be able to keep rounding out the team to present a full picture, including a head of finance, and leaders that understand construction, real estate and security—essentially all the various talents that will make an enterprise successful. 

The other important piece is the cash. Is there capital or an investor in line to finance the venture?

Whether that is an actual owner or a third-party financier, everyone wants to feel confident an applicant is not going to run out of money before breaking ground.

Next, there are some basic fees associated with the application process that vary by jurisdiction.

Typically, one can expect an application filing fee at the state level. These can vary wildly ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000.00. The local government might also require an additional fee, but these will be typically lower than state fees.

Finally – social equity. This umbrella term includes everything from previous disenfranchisement to being disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. If an applicant falls into one of these categories, they may qualify for reduced fees or cost reimbursements. 

What Is the Timeline Like To Apply For and Receive a License?

Again, this largely depends on where the license is being applied for – individual cities and states all have their own timelines. 

States have a certain amount of time to receive applications, which is followed by a review process. In most states, there is a window – for example, applications will be accepted from August to October, followed by a 100-day review period before a license is issued. However, most municipalities also carve out exceptions for themselves, so they are not strictly held to deadlines, further obscuring clear timelines. 

Keeping expectations in check in this area will keep applicants from getting discouraged.

From the day an application window is open to the day a license is issued, be prepared for the timeline to be lengthy. It can take from months to years and any number of factors can slow it down—all stalling the process. 

Often, though, most licenses are issued somewhere between six to 18 months. This is admittedly a wide window and will ultimately depend upon the state the application is being made in. Understanding the process takes time and can drag on indefinitely will be helpful. 

Before any of this, however, the entire process of gathering the application materials is time-consuming and intensive. Unlike a typical business license, cannabis licensing is complex. Take, for example, merit-based or competitive applications. In these cases, applicants are required to write narratives and answer prompts. One may be required to supply ten years of income tax returns. A spouse’s information may be required. Expect robust hoop-jumping before even submitting the application. 

It is wise to begin the application process as soon as possible, allowing time to be thorough and present the best possible case.

Do I Need To Live in The City or State I Want To Apply in?

As with everything else in licensing, it depends. However, as the industry expands, this is less important than it once was. Early on, states and cities were more guarded with who could apply for and receive licenses and emphasized a local approach. However, some recent court rulings have deemed it unconstitutional to limit licenses solely to state residents.

While this requirement does still exist in some states, it is falling away in others. If there is a residence requirement, it is helpful to know that this is not an automatic disqualifier – someone who already owns a different business in the state may qualify based on that.

Do I Need To Form a New Company To Apply Under?

Is it required? No. 

Is it advisable? Absolutely. 

When applying for a license, it is always advisable to form a new company. 

Presenting a clear picture of the new company will make life smoother for both applicant and the regulator—outline the operating agreement, ownership structure, mission statement, and the like.

Typically, most opt for LLCs as they tend to be the most straightforward entity to form. Creating a C Corps is another option for those with grand plans. 

Do I Need Real Estate or Site Control To Apply? If so, Where Should I be Looking?

Again, this will depend on the state in which the application is being filed and what its specific requirements are. Some will want to see a lease, a purchase agreement, or a title deed for a compliant piece of real estate as part of an initial application package.

Regardless of whether real estate is required at the time of application, almost all states or municipalities will mandate a site with requisite buffers or setback zones. Across every state, dispensaries are required to be at a certain distance from schools, for example. There may be further requirements regarding proximity to residential areas. Finding the proper piece of real estate can often feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Some states, such as New Jersey and Illinois, offer conditional licenses – these include a proposed area but do not require a pre-existing lease agreement. Once a state grants this conditional license, it will trigger a countdown of sorts to fulfill the real estate clause before the issuance of a full operating license.

Does it Matter if I Have Been Arrested or Convicted of a Crime?

Simply put, it depends on the crime. In certain cases – such as being previously arrested for low-level cannabis possession; it may actually help! This is in line with social equity provisions in state legislation that seeks to redress harms caused by war on drugs. These benefits may include discounts on application fees, technical assistance, or even real estate in some cases.

However, convictions for other types of crimes, such as fraud or violent crime, are automatically disqualifying. 

How Many Other Licenses are Going To be Awarded

This varies by location and often evolves along with shifting sentiment and legislation.

Generally, states with medical-use-only laws are more like to have caps, as this is their first foray into the cannabis market. When Alabama legalized medical marijuana, for example, they allowed 37 total dispensaries. However, as states learn from neighbors or adopt plans to legalize adult-use cannabis, these limits are often drawn down.

Nevertheless, there are few universal truths when it comes to market size and local laws – Oklahoma is medical use only, with no upper limits on dispensaries, while New Mexico removed its cap for adult-use. 

Can I Apply For Multiple Licenses?

Typically not, although this depends on location. Generally speaking, regulators tend to limit licenses to one vertically integrated operation – encompassing cultivation, manufacturing and retail.

In some states with more laissez-faire regulation, it can be essentially unlimited, however – think New Mexico, Mississippi and Oklahoma. An outlier is Florida, where only a certain number of licenses are allowed, but under those licenses, an operator is allowed to have as many locations as they want, as long as the real estate is compliant. 

How can Franchising be a Viable Vehicle?

By now it is probably clear that jumping into the business of cannabis is not for the faint of heart. 

Many who have taken the plunge have found it indispensable to have access to the experience of those with industry acumen to navigate the complexity of everything from licensing to zoning and real estate.

At Unity Rd., we made it our mission to provide insight and expertise to guide local entrepreneurs and small business owners through these challenging hurtles – allowing them to enter the cannabis industry with the confidence they need to thrive successfully and compliantly. 

Nate Reed is currently the Director of Licensing for Unity Rd., the national cannabis dispensary franchise in the U.S. from Item 9 Labs Corp., which also cultivates and produces the award-winning Item 9 Labs product brand. He spearheads licensing efforts for the Company’s retail brand, develops standard operating procedures (SOPs) for corporate and franchise partner applications and conducts in-depth market research as cannabis legalizations increases.   

He first began his career in the legal cannabis industry in 2016, handling legal and compliance work for a cannabis real estate company. Reed has since worked in various licensing, legal and compliance roles for CannaRegs, MedMen, Embarc Retail and Vicente Sederberg.     

In 2015, Reed graduated from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law where he attended a Dean’s Scholarship and held various impressive legal internships and clerkships with companies such as MillerCoors and Fortis Law Partners. After successfully passing the Bar exam, he received his J.D. and officially became a lawyer.    


Lobby Congress with NCIA – Hear From First-Time Attendees

Spring is almost here, and NCIA’s 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days are just two months away!

Over the past decade, NCIA members have made real, measurable progress moving the dial for cannabis policy reform. Year after year, our industry continues to gain support from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle on crucial issues like banking access, 280E reform, and federal de-scheduling.

It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN and HOW. Lobby Days is YOUR opportunity to make sure federal legalization is favorable to main street cannabis.

This is the most important cannabis event of the year, so you don’t want to miss this opportunity to join your industry peers in the halls of Congress. Be sure to REGISTER NOW to join NCIA members to advocate for the issues most important to small cannabis businesses and to share your personal stories with national lawmakers who need to hear from Main Street Cannabis now more than ever.

NCIA’s 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days

May 16-18, 2022
Washington, D.C.


Never lobbied Congress before?
Hear from these first-time attendees of last year’s Lobby Days:


Video: NCIA Today – Friday, March 10, 2023

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.


Update from NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager

Our DEI Program has a lot to share and celebrate as we gear up for Spring, when we hope to hit the road with our Equity Workshop Tour.

Keep reading for all the highlights and wins to start 2023.

But first, I want to remind you that today is the LAST DAY to throw down sponsorship dollars as part of our Lobby Days DEI Delegation.

ALL Lobby Days sponsorship dollars raised during the month of February directly fund our DEI Delegation

This allows us to provide travel stipends as part of our commitment to DEI at NCIA. Our delegation consists of some of our organization’s most engaged and knowledgeable social equity policy advocates.

This is one of NCIA’s most important functions. It’s imperative we get it in the win column so that our report back in May/June’s newsletter is one of success for our DEI efforts. 

Reach out NOW to to help us reach our goal.

February Highlights of our DEI Program:

NCIA’s Global Majority Caucus Launches

February marked the momentous launch of NCIA’s Global Majority Caucus

Made up of Global Majority leaders from across the organization – Board Members, Committee Leadership, Equity Members serving on committees, and leaders of DEI Program initiatives.

The purpose of the GMC is to galvanize our Global Majority voices and impact at the nation’s oldest and most established cannabis trade association. 

I am humbled by the voices that were present last week and completely inspired by what we will continue to accomplish together.

Together, we will continue to advocate for greater Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our industry as we push toward federal legalization, and the more equitable rollout of the myriad of state cannabis programs.

Season 4 of The Cannabis Minority Report podcast kicks off.

Bringing minority (aka Global Majority) perspectives to the forefront of the industry

Join us for the live recordings every Monday at 1 pm ET on LinkedIn Live

Subscribe on your favorite podcast platforms, and catch up on the first few episodes of the new season, featuring NCIA Board Vice Chair Chris Jackson, NCIA Board Member Rebecca Colett of Calyxeum, and Dr Mila Marshall (Vice Chair of the Education Committee)

Upcoming guests include:

  • NCIA Board Member Ben Larson of Vertosa, Chris Jensen and Tiffany Watkins (DEIC Chair and Vice Chair), Kay Villamin (SRC Chair), Keyston Franklin (BFSC Chair), and Michael Webster (host of the Power Hour)

February featured TWO Catalyst Conversations (our DEI-focused webinar series)

Catalyst Conversation: Gain an Edge & Impact – Community Benefit Agreements

Featuring Gary Little and Doug Kelly, who are blazing trails in Chicago, alongside NCIA committee members Ace Castillo and Shannon Vetto

For cannabusinesses looking for how to “crack the code” of doing well AND good. We discuss how to create positive community impact AND excel as a business as a result

Catalyst Conversations: What’s Hot for 2023?

Featuring NCIA Committee members Vanessa Valdovinos, Keyston Franklin, and Jim Makoso, as well as new Board Member Amy Larson

Especially relevant for newer leaders in the cannabis space, seeking insights into how to succeed and gain lasting power, based on the opportunities 2023 presents.

New York Social Equity Roundtable Submits Public Comments, co-signed by a dozen partnered organizations

Since Spring of last year, we have been building coalition through conducting an ongoing roundtable discussion, consisting of multiple National and New York based cannabis social equity and industry organizations to assess and provide feedback regarding rules and regulations. Big thank you to the participating orgs, including: Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), Social Equity Committee Co-Chairs of NYC/Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry Association (NYCCIA/HVCIA), NYC NORML, Black and Brown Economic Power in Cannabis (BB EPIC), JustUS Foundation, Unified Legacy Operators Council (UNLOC), Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), Social Equity Empowerment Network (SEEN), The Hood Incubator,The People’s Ecosystem (TPE), Etain, legacy operators, and social equity cannabis business owners. 

On February 13th, we submitted our latest round of public comments, in a common effort to assist the New York Office of Cannabis Management in its mission to create an equitable and inclusive cannabis industry for New York State.

DEI Committee leader Raina Jackson served as Lead Author, with support from fellow NCIA committee members Mark Slaugh, Adrian Adams, Stephanie Keeffe, and Osbert Orduna.

Get a glimpse into the impact our Equity Scholarship Program is having

The first Equity Member Spotlight blog of the year is up! 

“it isn’t hard for me to find a BIPOC leader within NCIA who shares experiences similar to mine. That has made this a motivating and pleasurable experience.” 

– Michael Diaz-Rivera, Owner of Better Days Delivery; Colorado State Rep of M4MM

The Equity Workshop Tour is tentatively (based on sponsorship) set for stops in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, synced up with our Industry Socials. More to come. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

To join NCIA through our Equity Scholarship Program, apply here:

Committee Blog: NCIA Committee Work Provides Lasting Value To All – A 2022 Highlight Reel

by David Vaillencourt, The GMP Collective
Facilities Design Committee Chair

NCIA Committees are one of the easiest ways that NCIA enables its members to make a positive impact on the cannabis industry. The Facility Design Committee is one of fourteen (14) committees. We are all member-led, meeting monthly (if not more frequently) to discuss needs and to work together to create resources for the community and industry at large. This translates into blogs, webinars, and more. As the new Committee term gets underway, this article provides a recap of our 2022 term. Who are we? What did we accomplish? How can you as an industry operator or NCIA member leverage these resources? Read on!

“As the outgoing Chair, it was an honor to work alongside over a dozen experts ranging from business management solutions, architects, engineers, construction companies, quality management experts, equipment vendors, and more. I want to thank each and every one of you for your tireless contributions.” – David Vaillencourt, The GMP Collective

Accomplishments and key member takeaways

Now entering our fourth year, the FDC put together a significant amount of content for the industry to utilize. I have highlighted the top three impacts that our Committee felt we made. Seeing busy industry pioneers put aside valuable time in their days to consistently show up and create this content for the betterment of you all was a rewarding opportunity in itself and it’s impossible to do justice and recognition to the hours contributed by all.

“The knowledge and energy that is gained from this collection of experts who all have one overriding goal to advance cannabis as an industry both educates and motivates me…  The cannabis industry evolves extremely rapidly, by participating in NCIA committees you ensure that you do not get left behind and you have an opportunity to shape the future of cannabis.” – Cary Richardson, Miles Construction

What is VPD / HVACD and why should you care?

Understanding plant dynamics and how they impact the selection and sizing of HVAC systems is critical to the cannabis cultivation space. The design assumptions and directions made during early planning will impact plant quality, quantity, operational costs, and energy expenditures for the life of the facility.  It should not be surprising to owners and shareholders that if the first steps of design are made incorrectly, costs to correct original mistakes may exceed the original project budget, and oftentimes that may be too late. It is easy to get lost in the technical details on paper, but our members broke this important topic down for decision makers to better understand in our blog article and webinar “WTF is VPD” (available for free to watch on demand!).

“The details of HVACD get lost at times on me and [Adrian and Kevin] can explain it in a way, that a layman can understand it. David, Brian, and Sean are the other members who are always showing up, we meet at events and they have valuable input on topics of the FDC. We all connected outside of the FDC multiple times and are working on common business opportunities.”  – Chris Uhlig, Ceres Greenhouse Solutions

Social Equity is a major problem

Mike Lomuto who led NCIA’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee met with Shawn Cooney, our Vice-Chair early on to discuss sustainability and DEI issues in the space. Social equity applicants have so many additional hurdles that the FDC members prioritized how to steer our knowledge to solve real problems social equity applicants face. During several of our meetings, we invited a social equity applicant to share where they were stuck. They benefited from having a team of experts to listen, understand their problem, and offer direction and guidance. 

“The most meaningful thing that occurred [for me] was participating in a hot seat with a social equity license recipient…  We followed up with this individual and it led to us becoming more educated and aware of the issues surrounding social equity in the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, what we uncovered wasn’t that great. Social equity programs in several states are fraught with issues and there are often firms who are preying upon vulnerable people… I have a whole new sense of awareness. It’s opened me to educate myself and others as well.” – Eric Myers, COO, Omega Equipment Supply

But don’t take our word for it – hear it from one of our “hot seat” guests who came to us after having multiple setbacks getting their design plans for a dispensary approved by the city. 

“Prior to our meeting with the Facility Design Committee, we had experienced so many setbacks. After my hotseat with the FDC, we were able to identify what we did wrong and why we were having so many delays with the city. [The FDC members] helped us prioritize what steps we needed to take to get our project back on track… We redesigned our floorplan and now we are closer than ever to getting our building permits. We are back on track and I am even more confident in our plan all thanks to the Facilities Design Committee.” – Adolfo “Ace” Castillo Founder/Chief Operating Executive Banyan Tree Dispensary


Not only do we meet monthly virtually, enabling volunteers from Maine to California and everywhere in between to connect and share knowledge – but many of us made time to connect in person to speak on panels and support each other throughout the year. While the pandemic wreaked havoc on conferences and in-person events, we were able to build lasting relationships thanks to the Committee structure.

“The most impactful aspect of this year was getting to know members at an individual level” – Kevin Quinlan, Mintropy

From left to right Jon Crozier, Chris Uhlig, Adrian Giovenco, Eric Myers, David Vaillencourt, and Cary Richardson all met up in person at MJBiz Con.

Looking forward into 2023

Stay tuned industry! Bookmark NCIA’s Blog page, and subscribe to the newsletter so you can take advantage of the latest webinars and resources published by the FDC and the other NCIA committees. The pathway to a harmonized and equity industry may seem daunting and far away, but rest assured that the hundreds of NCIA members participating in the diverse Committees are working hard to divide and conquer for a unified mission.

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, February 9, 2023

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 LinkedIN for NCIA Today Live.





Bills in Congress, SAFE Banking, and House and Senate Committees

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

While it got off to a slow start, the 118th Congress is finally in full swing. Let’s take a look at some of the latest cannabis and government relations news coming out of Washington, D.C.:

Bills are being introduced

When a new Congress begins, all legislation from the last session must be re-introduced and start from scratch again in the legislative process. Over the last few weeks, a couple of cannabis bills have been reintroduced: two from Congressman Greg Steube (R-FL) and one from Congressman Alex Mooney (R-WV). 

Rep. Mooney was the first to introduce a cannabis bill for the 118th Congress when he released his Second Amendment Protection Act. Last Congress, a similar bill was filed by the late Rep. Don Young (R-AK) known as the Gun Rights And Marijuana (GRAM) Act. The full text of the new measure is not yet available so it’s unclear what exactly the bill contains, but advocates expect the bill to be similar to the version Mooney introduced in the 116th Congress. Interestingly, although federal law explicitly prohibits all Americans who consume or possess marijuana from purchasing or possessing a firearm, a judge in Oklahoma late last week declared that ban unconstitutional.

Congressman Steube’s two bills were the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act and the Marijuana 1-to-3 Act. The former prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from denying a veteran any VA benefit due to participation in a state-approved marijuana program. For veterans participating in these approved programs, the VA must ensure its healthcare providers both discuss marijuana use with such veterans and adjust treatment plans accordingly and record such use in the veterans’ medical records. The latter bill, the Marijuana 1 to 3 Act, has been introduced by Rep. Steube in past sessions and seeks to do exactly what the title says: reschedule cannabis to Schedule 3 – a reform that would not resolve the federal conflict with the vast majority of state laws with some form of legal cannabis 


The cannabis industry may have been devastated when Congress failed to pass the SAFE Banking Act last Congress, but we’re not giving up yet! Congressional champions have every intention of reintroducing SAFE in both chambers, but don’t expect the bill to look identical to last session. 

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Schumer held a closed-door meeting with a number of other Democratic Senators to discuss what’s next for the bill. Reportedly, the Senators discussed changing the text of the bill to reflect some of the “SAFE +” language that was negotiated at the end of 2022, including the HOPE Act. It’s currently unclear if the House’s version will be identical.

Committees Finally Seated

It took Congress longer than usual to seat committees this session – particularly in the House – but we now know which members will have jurisdiction over which issue areas. Our friends at Politico put together an extensive list, but some committees I’ll be keeping my eye on include the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Banking Committee, and the Appropriations Committees in both chambers. 

Stay up to date on the latest congressional cannabis policy by following NCIA on social media, subscribing to our newsletter, and attending one of our upcoming regional events

Descheduling, Decriminalizing, Banking, and More

By Madeline Grant, NCIA’s Government Relations Manager

It’s always an invigorating time on Capitol Hill when a new Congress begins to get to work. The atmosphere is unlike any other; Hill offices are getting situated with their staff, hallways are full of exhilarated constituents, freshman members are finding their footing while moving into their offices, and committee assignments are being finalized. Congressional staffers, members of Congress, lobbyists, constituents, and advocates are back in action. 

As we gear up for the 118th Congress, let’s take a look at some bills that we will see introduced to address descheduling, decriminalizing, and banking legislative efforts for the cannabis industry.  

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity (CAOA) Act

The long-awaited CAOA was unveiled last congress by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR). The comprehensive legalization would end federal prohibition by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, empower states to create their own cannabis laws, ensure federal regulation protects public health and safety, and prioritize restorative and economic justice. CAOA was first released as a discussion draft last year, alongside a request for comments from stakeholders. The National Cannabis Industry Association worked directly with Senator Schumer’s office and submitted comments to the bill. Although there was no movement, NCIA will continue to work directly with these offices to continue to improve the bill for the cannabis sector. 

The States Reform Act

Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-SC) States Reform Act was introduced last congress by a freshman congresswoman from a state without any cannabis laws. The bill would federally decriminalize cannabis by fully deferring to state powers over prohibition and commercial regulation, regulate cannabis products like alcohol, institute a three percent federal excise tax on those products to fund law enforcement and small business programs, and protect our veterans by ensuring they will not be discriminated against in federal hiring for cannabis use or lose their healthcare, and more. Last year this bill received positive feedback from the industry and NCIA will continue to work with Rep. Mace’s office this congress. 

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act

The MORE Act would end the criminalization of cannabis for adults by removing it from the list of controlled substances, eliminate related criminal penalties, and take several other major steps toward criminal justice reform, social justice, and economic development. Some key provisions of this bill are automatic expungements, impose a five percent tax on the retail sales of cannabis, create the Office of Cannabis Justice to oversee the social equity provisions, ensure the federal government could not discriminate against people because of cannabis use, and much more. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who served as chair to the House Judiciary Committee, was the sponsor of the bill last congress and was able to advance the bill through the chamber with ease. However, with Republicans winning back the majority in the House, successes like this will be more challenging. Additionally, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has not been supportive of the cannabis sector. 

The Securing and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking

The SAFE Banking Act aims to protect banking institutions- as well as their insurers- that choose to offer services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses operating in accordance with their respective state laws. The bill prevents federal banking regulators from imposing penalties on depository institutions that offer services to cannabis-related businesses. SAFE Banking is a bipartisan bill that has passed the House seven times. The broad consensus was that inaction on SAFE Banking came down to Senate leadership. As bipartisan Senate discussions materialized towards the end of last Congress, Republican senators requested the Department of Justice (DOJ) to analyze the bill. The DOJ wrote, “because marijuana would remain illegal under federal law, Congress should ensure efforts to provide access to financial services for state-legal businesses does not unintentionally erect obstacles to prosecution of other illicit activity or activities involving money laundering of proceeds of other illegal drugs or sales of marijuana that do not comply with state requirements.” Despite the concerns, the DOJ stated they would be happy to work with Congress on ways to improve the bill. As the 118th Congress begins, we will continue to do what we can to get SAFE Banking to this finish line. 

The Harnessing Opportunity by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act

In 2021 Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who is a co-chair of the House Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the HOPE Act to help states with expunging cannabis offenses by reducing the financial and administrative burden of such efforts through federal grants. Both lawmakers have advocated for cannabis reform on their respective sides of the aisle, with Rep. Joyce (R-OH) sponsoring the first Republican-led effort to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level in the House. Towards the end of last year discussions surfaced around including the HOPE Act in a SAFE Plus package. Unfortunately, with the end of the congressional session quickly coming to an end, so did the proposed package.

NCIA will continue to work with Capitol Hill offices to advance cannabis policy in the 118th Congress. With a shift in political dynamic, it’s imperative to continue to be a resource for congressional offices. Don’t miss the opportunity to attend our 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days will be held May 16-18 in Washington, D.C.! You can register here. If you’re interested in getting more involved in our policy efforts or have questions about NCIA’s lobby days please reach out to Stay tuned for more updates from the Government Relations team and check out last week’s blogs here

Member Blog: Future Of FDIC Easing for Cannabis Banking After Biden Decriminalizes Marijuana

by Joshua Gilstrap, e2b teknologies

Over the years, the simple possession or use of cannabis has seen many lives upended by arrests and criminal convictions. Unfairly, racial disparities have determined that black and brown individuals suffer most of these convictions, arrests, and prosecutions, even though white individuals use and possess cannabis at similar rates. The resulting criminal records lead to individuals being denied fundamental rights to employment, housing, and education opportunities.

However, on October 6, 2022, President Biden made an announcement that could change the cannabis and criminal clemency conversation. The president asserted he would:

  • grant pardons to individuals with prior low-level federal cannabis possession offenses
  • change federal cannabis laws by reviewing the cannabis Schedule I rule.

The federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance puts it in the same category as more lethal drugs like heroin and LSD while drugs like fentanyl are not considered less severe than marijuana since it falls under Schedule II.

As more states legalize the sale and use of cannabis, the classification of Schedule I no longer makes sense. Additionally, more direct research on the proper utilization of marijuana can develop suitable restrictive and preventative measures to protect against harmful outcomes of cannabis use.

The Biden initiative is crucial because it can begin to remove the burden of employment, education, and housing limitations often experienced by individuals with simple cannabis possession convictions. Besides, if marijuana is rescheduled to Schedule II, or as many advocates champion for a complete descheduling, it could mean the end of cannabis prohibition altogether.

Widespread Support for this Initiative

Nearly 70% of Americans support the President’s pardon proclamation. Publicly, two in three Americans support Biden’s plan for cannabis reforms, and three in four support the removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Bipartisan support for this move is also high, with 74% of Independents, 84% of Democrats, and 58% of Republicans backing the proposal. At the state level, 68% of respondents support governors that want to issue pardons for people with low-level cannabis possession convictions.

Why This is Important

The expeditious review process requested by President Biden has the potential to open the cannabis industry to further changes, like the easing of banking restrictions for cannabis businesses. For instance, the call for action by governors is already inspiring many to rethink state and local relief for marijuana users. Kentucky, Colorado, and Kansas are three states already actively considering enacting the Biden pardons and drafting new reform bills for marijuana cases. 

The Colorado governor is pushing Congress to pass a bipartisan banking bill on marijuana.

“The lack of safe banking and financial services for the cannabis industry in the State of Colorado has become a dire public safety issue for highly regulated cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law,” Gov. Jared Polis’ office wrote to House and Senate leaders.

“Further, the lack of safe banking exacerbates the uneven playing field faced by small and minority-owned cannabis businesses, despite their serving the same communities and being subject to the same increased state regulation as other cannabis businesses in the State,” the letter said.

It’s true – over the years, the cannabis industry has dealt with a lack of financial and banking services because of the strict regulations and criminalization associated with marijuana. Consequently, this has resulted in severe public safety issues, even for cannabis businesses that operate within the compliance mandates of the state law.

Additionally, operators are disadvantaged because they lack funding or banking systems that support cannabis business processes. But following Biden’s pardon, many hope that Congress’ marijuana reform will pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act for the industry.

If passed, the protection against armed robbery will increase. Also, the SAFE Banking Act will support the minority, veterans, and women who own small cannabis businesses. This, in turn, is expected to improve public safety amid the growing use of cannabis and cannabis products while simultaneously creating jobs within states.

Ushering in the Era of Cannabis Banking and FDIC

Even though the SAFE Banking Act has been in the House of Congress seven times, federally insured banking services and modern digital banking solutions like electronic payment processing are still inaccessible to the cannabis industry.

The Act lags in the senate under Democratic and Republican control. However, the senate is said to be preparing to enact the reform for the SAFE Banking Act as part of the Biden marijuana proposals. And why not? There is significant support for the SAFE Banking Act.

For instance, National Association of State Treasures members have voiced their support for the SAFE Banking Act. Public policy also demands the immediate relief the ACT will provide cannabis businesses. Therefore, the expectation that leaders in the government will push for banking reforms for cannabis businesses is prevalent.

The SAFE Banking Act is an Advocate for the War on Drugs

Many believe that the baking legislation would advocate for the war on drugs because it would offer protection against the risk of robbery and violence. By denying cash-based cannabis businesses access to the traditional financial system, the state and local governments provide an invitation threat that has seen many victims working in cannabis businesses lose their lives or livelihoods.

On the other hand, the right to payment solutions, like credit cards, protects against armed robbery. Nonetheless, for the banking legislation to work, it requires the support of criminal reforms. This is where initiatives like predicant Biden’s pardon and marijuana schedule reform come in.

The SAFE Banking Act will solve the injustice associated with financial inequality, thus, providing public safety that protects customers, employees, and businesses in the cannabis industry. And with reduced invitations for armed robberies working in tandem with the use of mandated cannabis products, the war on drugs will ensue.

Cannabis Businesses Contribute Equally to the Economy

As such, it is only fair to provide them with the same rights and protections that other businesses, whether big or small, enjoy. Therefore, starting with the push to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, not just at the federal level but at the state level, is a solid place to start.

Following this pardon with an advocacy of the SAFE Banking Act will additionally provide cannabis businesses with the capability to carry out operations securely and optimally. But attention must be paid to the details pertinent to these reforms to ensure thousands of convicts get a better chance at life and cannabis businesses get opportunities to continue contributing to the economy. 


What does President Biden’s pardon for marijuana possession entail?

President Biden’s cannabis reform initiatives are set to accomplish three things:

  1. Pardon convicts with low-level marijuana possession offenses, thus, allowing them to get housing, education, and employment without prejudice
  2. Reduce the marijuana Schedule level on the Controlled Substances Act from Schedule I to Schedule II, which lessens the seriousness of marijuana possession
  3. Inspire governors to offer the same pardons at the state and local levels where most marijuana convictions are carried out

Is there support for President Biden’s announcement?

Yes. There is ample support from the public and bipartisan control for Biden’s pardon and advocacy for the marijuana schedule change in the Controlled Substances Act.

What would the pardon mean for cannabis banking?

The de-scheduling of the marijuana Controlled Substances Act would remove the many legal hurdles and fears of the financial institutions that keep them from supporting cannabis businesses. This would reduce the discriminatory risks associated with banking or financing cannabis businesses. 

Joshua Gilstrap is the Marketing Manager for e2b teknologies, in addition to his marketing responsibilities Joshua leads business development for e2b teknologies emerging Canna Suite product line. A business graduate with a focus in marketing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, he joined the e2b team in the Fall of 2019. Josh brought with him a wide array of business and practical experience in planning and execution. Since coming aboard he has led multiple projects including website hosting and theme standardization company wide, marketing automation streamlining the efficiency of the customer journey, and sales automation where he is changing the conversation from promotion to education, from pitching to catching, and from push to pull in order to keep up with the shifting tides of a digital transformation.

Member Blog: Reaching The Highest Common Denominator

by Raina Jackson, Founder & CEO of PURPLE RAINA Self Care
Member of NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee (DEIC)

This past September I had the pleasure of lobbying in D.C. for the first time as part of NCIA’s 10th Annual Lobby Days. The lobbying process was demystified for me, and I found that lobbying isn’t easy, but it isn’t that hard when you share your talking points from your heart, representing your own and others’ experiences. I learned that the NCIA delegation shares more common ground than we realized with Congressmembers, especially through their younger and more hip staffers and family members. One senator has a daughter who used to be a budtender and now podcasts about the industry, Senator Gary Peters (D-MI).

I was encouraged by how receptive legislative aides and advisors were to the factual talking points and statistics NCIA provided us to appeal to their sense of reason and fairness. They recognized the public health and economic benefits cannabis has delivered and its potential, without being distracted by useless moral arguments against it. Our team gave an overview of the cannabis landscape and advocated while offering solutions to our varied struggles as cannabis entrepreneurs.  

  • We highlighted that 47 states have adopted some form of cannabis commerce and decriminalization, representing 97.7% of the U.S. population! The majority of the American public demands safe access to cannabis. Why not ride the wave? 
  • Cannabis has been found to be a “gateway” medicine for a more safe withdrawal from opioid addiction, especially crucial to states experiencing high overdose death rates. 
  • We discussed the DEA recently approved funds for even more substantial clinical research on the myriad of proven and potential health benefits delivered by the cannabis plant in a wide range of forms. Yet existing cannabis research is often more robust and held to higher standards than over the counter aspirin. Many pharmaceutical drugs are advertised on TV as the best thing since sliced bread one day (albeit with alarming potential side effects), then next named in TV ads for class action lawsuits for their harmful effects. 

A case for an enhanced SAFE Banking Act 

The legal U.S. cannabis market is valued at $17.7 billion, with a substantial amount unbanked, causing a public safety crisis. Our discussions illuminated our common ground regarding the public safety improvements and economic benefits that the bipartisan supported SAFE Banking Act will bring to each state choosing to introduce its own customized hemp CBD/low THC, medical, or adult recreational cannabis program.

  • When compliantly banked these funds will offer financial institutions of all sizes more capital for lending to spur economic recovery and a safer industry. While no financial institution will be required to participate, the risk mitigation and sizable financial benefits can’t be ignored. 
  • SAFE will remove the risk of federal prosecution for compliant financial institutions already offering banking to cannabis businesses, while encouraging more banks and credit unions to join them. Too many existing entities providing cannabis banking services tend to mitigate risk by charging exorbitant monthly fees, financially hobbling startup cannabis businesses or excluding them altogether. 
  • SAFE would also support hemp CBD businesses like mine, still navigated the grey area regarding access to banking, loans, leases/mortgages, and payment processing.

In my follow-up email to the Congressional aides and advisors we met with, I attached a white paper authored by the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CCRC) offering best practices for increasing financial access to cannabis businesses, prioritizing groups that have been historically underserved by traditional financial institutions and disproportionately harmed by prohibition.

What’s next?

This regulated cannabis industry is so new that we must allow each other some grace as stakeholders. As cannabis advocates, we have learned that “calling people in” for discussions on the benefits of the SAFE Banking Act and comprehensive cannabis reform is more effective than “calling them out.” 

Elected officials and their staff don’t understand first-hand what we experience as cannabis entrepreneurs, and many care more than I expected. Lobbying and sending them emails on new and modified policy recommendations helps them to be well-informed enough to support us. My highlight was meeting with a CA legislative aide who is a fellow CA native and sincerely wanted to be updated on my progress and pain points. We all had a laugh about him agreeing to let me go into “the weeds” concerning the licensing process, pun intended. 

Since Lobby Days, President Biden announced the upcoming FDA and DEA review of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. It could potentially be de-scheduling within the next 12 to18 months! However, to date, only seven states provide licensing priority, exclusivity, or set aside a percentage of licenses for qualified social equity applicants. The same way the SAFE Banking act should be passed with amendments fostering equity, state, and future federally legalized cannabis programs must include targeted equity programs to help level the playing field. I look forward to returning to D.C. in May for 2023 NCIA Lobby Days!

Raina Jackson is a multifaceted cannabis brand strategist, product developer, and advocate, and is the founder & CEO of PURPLE RAINA Self Care, the culmination of her love for beauty wellness products, the color purple, and the musical and cultural phenomenon Prince. For the past 7 years she has worked in the San Francisco Bay Area cannabis industry in sales management, field marketing, distribution, and product development, and a verified SF Cannabis Equity applicant in Oakland and San Francisco. For the past year she has served on the NCIA Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee and the Regulatory Compliance subcommittee.

Raina has over 15 years of experience in beauty/wellness care product development, sales/ marketing management, and product education at Maybelline, L’Oréal Professional, and Design Essentials Salon System and has taught cosmetology at The Aveda Institute in SoHo NYC. A San Francisco native, Raina earned a B.A. degree in cultural anthropology and linguistics from Stanford University and an MBA in marketing and management from NYU.


The NCIA DEI Delegation Reports Back from Lobby Days in D.C.!

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager

On September 13-14, Social Equity applicants and operators from around the country traveled to Washington D.C. as part of NCIA’s Lobby Days. Lobby Days provides the opportunity for NCIA members to speak directly with national lawmakers about the issues most important to small cannabis businesses – from SAFE banking to federal de-scheduling. This first-ever DEI delegation was supported by our members’ contributions to the Social Equity Scholarship Fund, and was the first of its kind – intentionally bringing diverse voices from our membership to Lobby Days. 

Due to the pandemic, this was our first in-person Lobby Days since the launch of our DEI Program in 2019, and the launch of our Social Equity Scholarship Program in Spring of 2020. Since then, we have been coalescing our members’ diverse voices into clear perspectives and opinions on the direction of our industry. Something that our DEI Program is very proud of is that at this year’s Lobby Days we supplied talking points with the purpose of creating a proper impact. 

Some of these talking points were sourced from the excellent white paper on SAFE Banking by the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, which provides very thorough recommendations including: Requiring federal banking regulators to identify best practices to achieve racial equity in financial services; and Clarifying that cannabis criminal records are not an automatic red flag. Notably, this group which has some of its roots from NCIA’s very first Catalyst Conversation over two years ago, and its Treasurer, Rafi Crockett, now serves on NCIA’s DEI Committee. 

The Social Equity applicants and operators comprising the delegation spoke directly to lawmakers on the kind of real changes we need for DEI and social equity to become a reality in our industry, in particular regarding SAFE banking. From their experience as professionals and advocates in the industry they were able to provide much-needed insight into how legislation impacts owners, operators, budtenders, and the social equity community in particular at the ground level. These conversations proved to be the missing link for a lot of these elected officials on Capitol Hill who stated their support for making a more equitable industry and righting the wrongs of the war on drugs, but lack real-life experience on the matter. 

Here are some of the highlights from the delegation: 

“My highlight was meeting with a CA legislative aide who is a fellow CA native and sincerely wanted to be updated on my progress and pain points. We all had a laugh about him agreeing to let me go into “the weeds” concerning the licensing process, pun intended.” 

  • Raina Jackson, Founder & CEO PURPLE RAINA Self Care

NCIA Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee (DEIC) 


“As I moved from meeting to meeting, one thing became crystal clear; there’s a knowledge gap that surrounds this plant, a gap fueled by learned behaviors, stigmas, pain, gain, and loss. This message rang clear to me from members and staff of both the senate and house…” 

  • Toni MSN, RN, CYT, Toni

NCIA Education Committee and Health Equity Working Group


“From my experience, I learned that people make a difference. The people who make the laws don’t know everything and us providing information and answers can and may make that difference” 

  • LaVonne Turner, Puff Couture, LLC

NCIA DEI Committee


“NCIA Lobby Days was an interesting peek behind the curtain of how the sausage is made in D.C. It became easier to see why some politicians seem so ill-informed about cannabis. Elected officials may themselves come from a state with draconian laws and politics about cannabis. Mix that with their staffers/advisors being recent college grads from other parts of the country with those same conditions, and you have a recipe for horrific policy. What was refreshing however was the amazing amount of knowledge that some of those staffers did possess both about cannabis policy and the plant itself. Not surprisingly they without fail worked for pro-cannabis congresspersons.” 

  • Dr. Adrian Adams, CEO Ontogen Botanicals 

NCIA DEI Committee – Subcommittee Regulation

“In each session, as I spoke about equity in underserved communities, the representative(s) appeared as it was the first time hearing the phrase Safe Equitable banking. Through their perplexed faces, I saw them registering that safe, equitable banking is needed.” – Toni

“I’ve never done something like this before sounds so cliche but it’s the best way to describe this eye-opening experience of speaking directly to Congressional staff about what it means to be a small business owner in the cannabis space.  The challenges and hurdles that we have to deal with because of 280e and cannabis being a “controlled substance” are real and huge burdens to us as small businesses and owners of color. The lack of banking and financing is exponentially more damaging and difficult to black and brown communities because of our historic lack of fair and equitable access to this vital resource.  This lobby days opportunity strengthened my resolve to be a loud voice for the Latino and black communities to ensure we have our seat at the table from this day forward!”

  • Osbert Orduña, The Cannabis Place

“Everyone we met with was compelled by the financial and public safety benefits that SAFE would offer under any form of cannabis decriminalization, from CBD with low-THC to adult consumption” – Raina Jackson


All in all, the consensus was that it was a valuable experience and folks would take the time to lobby again and encourage others to do the same. Lobbying in DC is one part of many strategies that have the potential to spark policy change at the federal level and without a doubt, getting a chance to speak personally to experienced industry professionals with a social equity lens was invaluable for the policymakers. 

Next year we are pledging to double or even triple our DEI delegation. If you’d like to be a part of making this happen, we are already accepting sponsorships as we plan for 2023’s event, NCIA’s 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days on May 16-18, 2022.

If you did not get a chance to read our blog post before the delegation left for Washington, D.C. to participate in NCIA Lobby Days as part of the first-ever Lobby Days Social Equity Scholarship delegation, you can read more here


Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, October 22, 2022


Biden’s Announcement, SAFE Banking, and the CAOA

Photo By

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

October has been a mixed bag in Washington, D.C. in terms of cannabis policy: there hasn’t been much news from Capitol Hill, but the Biden Administration shocked everyone when they made a big announcement earlier this month. As we draw nearer to the midterm elections in November (don’t forget to register!), let’s take a look at where things stand currently: 

On Capitol Hill:

SAFE Banking Act

The SAFE Banking Act (S. 910) has been held up in the Senate for more than a year now. Many Senate Democrats (including Leader Schumer) have been pushing for changes to the bill to create a “SAFE +” bill that includes justice-focused provisions. As with all things in politics, a delicate balance must be kept in order to reach 60 votes in the hyper-partisan Senate. 

The good news: Leader Schumer and other Democrats have been in negotiations with lead-Republican co-sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and others to determine what “SAFE +” could look like. Those discussions have been occurring for a few weeks now and will continue. 

The bad news: those negotiations are taking time. As a result, you shouldn’t expect any legislative movement to occur until after the midterm elections. 

There’s also the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to consider. The House passed and sent the FY2023 NDAA to the Senate months ago and the large package did include the language of the SAFE Banking Act (as currently written). It’s unclear how the SAFE+ negotiations may impact cannabis banking’s chances in the NDAA: Leader Schumer could make sure the language is not in the NDAA if he feels confident about SAFE+’s chances. 


Unfortunately, there’s no substantive news regarding the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), or comprehensive reform broadly on Capitol Hill right now. While NCIA and others continue to push for descheduling and responsible regulations from Congress, the upcoming election and Senate timeline have taken precedent. It’s unlikely that CAOA will move this legislative session given the number of legislative days left in the year.

From the Administration:

Earlier this month, ​​President Biden made an unprecedented announcement that his administration would begin the process for the pardoning of thousands of people with nonviolent marijuana use or possession convictions, and would begin the process of working with the Department of Health and Human Services to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act.

This announcement comes on the heels of NCIA’s successful 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days held in mid-September, where 100 cannabis industry professionals, representing small and medium-sized businesses including social equity operators, met with more than 100 Congressional offices to discuss barriers faced by the industry stemming from marijuana prohibition.

It’s no coincidence that when NCIA members show up to D.C., big things happen! Make sure to stay informed as we head towards the lame duck session via our newsletter and social media platforms and don’t forget to register for NCIA’s upcoming 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days in May 2023! 

Video: Insights From NCIA’s 10th Annual Lobby Days

“I think it was really successful on all fronts.
Whether it be the networking aspect, VIP access to key decision makers, or just the ability to get to know people both fellow cannabis business owners and congressional leaders.
Lobby Days was a perfect example of really putting the membership into work and seeing what it is that you pay for.”
Chris Jackson, NCIA Board Member


Join us May 16-18, 2023 as we return to Washington, D.C. for NCIA’s 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days!

Are you interested in sponsorship opportunities for your company at NCIA’s most important policy event of the year? Contact us at to find out more!
Read more and see photos in this blog post “Lobby Days Post-Summer Haze.”

Member Blog: How Brands Can Help Cannabis Decriminalization

By Mack Bush, King Palm

There has been a steady movement for the decriminalization of cannabis worldwide. Many organizations call for their governments to allow recreational and medical cannabis, and it’s hard to deny how valuable the cash crop can be for the local economy. Learn how some cannabis brands are contributing to decriminalizing cannabis and making an impact. 

As it stands, 19 U.S. states have fully legalized cannabis, and another 19 have medical marijuana programs. While this is fantastic progress, it’s still leaving many people convicted of drug crimes, medical patients, and minorities behind. While some places go the extra mile, there are still many places where it’s a punishable crime with the smallest amount of cannabis. Cannabis laws continue to evolve to protect users, such as the new California law that protects employees from smoking outside work hours.

A bill to decriminalize marijuana passed in the U.S. House in April, but there’s not a lot of hope that Congress will take it up. However, the fact that it was proposed shows that recreational and medical cannabis is becoming closer to the mainstream.

Global Cannabis Decriminalization 

Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and Malta have legalized adult-use cannabis. The list is relatively short and shows that there’s still progress worldwide.

It’s become clear that many think it doesn’t make sense for people to go to prison for cannabis possession. Programs have been set up in most states and some countries to expunge cannabis possession records and free people who are locked up unjustly.

Here’s a quick introduction to some of these programs and how states, businesses, and individuals push cannabis decriminalization and legalization forward.

States Create Social Equity Programs

A common critique of the cannabis industry is that it’s dominated by white people who were never negatively impacted by anti-marijuana laws. Social equity programs in many states are working hard to level the playing field.

While each state has different qualifications, eligible people must live in an area strongly affected by high arrest and imprisonment rates for cannabis activity. Applicants might also receive extra assistance if they were arrested or convicted of marijuana crimes before legalization.

Some businesses also offer reduced product prices, grants, and loans for cannabis enterprises founded using social equity programs. This makes it easier for minorities to get the funding they need to start the industry.

Programs To Help Minorities with Cannabis Jobs

Not everyone who wants to get involved in the cannabis field is interested in running their own business. Some organizations are also making it easier for people of color to find jobs in the field.

The Minority Cannabis Academy is a New Jersey program that helps young Black Indigenous people of color find their vocation in the cannabis industry. It trains them to work as budtenders in existing dispensaries, giving them a leg up for employment.

In Illinois, cannabis companies can expedite their application for a license if the majority of their staff has been convicted of a cannabis-related offense in the past. This incentivizes businesses to hire minorities and people who need help from these programs.

More programs like these should be developed nationwide if we want a positive representation of BIPOC in the cannabis industry.

Grants Given to Provide Legal Assistance for Expunging Nonviolent Cannabis Crimes

Having a marijuana conviction on your record can have lasting consequences. Drug convictions come up in background checks, and since they carry a significant stigma, people can lose out on employment opportunities when a company judges them harshly for their past. 

A cannabis conviction can also make it difficult to rent an apartment or buy a home. Plus, people with drug convictions have been denied student loans and other loans from financial institutions.

When Illinois legalized cannabis in 2019, it was important to lawmakers that people who were convicted for marijuana crimes previously were able to clear their records.

An excellent organization focused on eliminating people’s cannabis records called the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation is taking a step forward. They will award over $1.4 million in grants spread throughout 18 organizations in the state to help rid people of their cannabis records. The funding will assist legal aid groups, so they can represent people in court and are committed to educating people about their expungement options.

Thailand has pushed its efforts even further. When the country delisted cannabis as a narcotic in June, they also released 3,071 inmates who had been convicted of cannabis-related crimes.

Canada has issued pardons for people with previous marijuana convictions for several years. The process can be slow, but the government feels strongly that these people should be released, and their records wiped clean.

These models show that it’s possible to legalize marijuana while still caring for people whose criminalization has been negatively impacted. Experts are hopeful that President Biden will free individuals in jail for marijuana possession, but the future in the United States remains unclear.

How Brands Can Help Impact Positive Change In The Right Direction 

King Palm is a cannabis smoking accessory brand that has created a Last Prisoner Project rolling tray to help spread awareness of that non-profit organization. 

This cannabis smoking accessory brand is donating to the Last Prisoner Project. This nonprofit organization is committed to freeing people convicted of marijuana-related crimes.

The organization works hard to advocate for bills that would free people from prison for marijuana offenses, and once people are freed, they help them integrate back into their communities.

Expungement Assistance

Many states are setting up expungement assistance programs that anyone can access. The process can take time and be confusing, but many people find it extremely worthwhile.

In 2021, Michigan passed the Clean Slate Act, which expanded the types of crimes that can be expunged. Some expungements will even be automatic under the law. The state says hundreds of thousands to millions of people are now eligible for their criminal records to be wiped clean.

Another strong member of the National Cannabis Industry Association is Cannabis Equity Illinois. They help community members expunge or seal their criminal records for cannabis and also advocate for automatic expungement. They also provide Know Your Rights seminars, so no one is criminalized for cannabis use.

Looking for help expunging your legal record with cannabis? Many areas have expungement events, and you can find exactly what you need to do on your state’s website.

Support for cannabis decriminalization is growing, but there’s still a long way to go. Luckily, many governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations are doing their part to make cannabis mainstream and help minorities make their way up through the budding industry.

Mack Bush (they/them) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sharing the joys of cannabis with the world. They manage their fibromyalgia with medical marijuana, and it’s opened up new doors and improved their quality of life. They live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with their cats, Rigatoni and Jasper. Find out more about their work at

King Palm is one of the leading cannabis companies in the world for joint wraps, pre-rolled cones, and rolling papers. Their specialty palm wraps are made from Cordia leaves and allow you to get in touch with nature while you smoke. They also create quality smoking accessories, including electronic devices like concentrate vapes and nectar collectors, as well as lighters, rolling trays, grinders, and ashtrays. Find out more about their products at!


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.


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