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.


Equity Member Spotlights: Where Are They Now?

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

For reference, previous member spotlights

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

Exspiravit LLC

What’s new in the world of Exspiravit? 

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

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

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

Endo Industries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Level Edibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Charlena Berry, Cannabis Business Growth

The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.

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

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

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

#1: Black Men Are Dangerous

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Cannabis Is Dangerous

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

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

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

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

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

#3: Opioids Are Safe

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

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

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

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

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

#4: Addiction Is the Addict’s Fault

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

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

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

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

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

The Consequences of These Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making History In Congress, Thanks To NCIA Members!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, July 14, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Want to know how you can sponsor events like these? Please contact our Events Team at to explore possibilities.

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

By Charlena Berry, Cannabis Business Growth

The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.

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

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

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

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

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

Adopt the Leadership Mindset

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

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

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

Promote From Within

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

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

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

Focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

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

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

Understand When to Let People Go

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

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

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

Turnover is Expensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, June 16, 2022

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

Happy Juneteenth, Happy PRIDE!

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


Equity Member Spotlight: Urban Flavours – John Quinn III

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, June 2, 2022

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

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

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

Equity Member Spotlight: Ontogen Botanicals – Dr. Adrian Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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