A Message From Our CEO – Farewell 2020

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

In these last few days of the year, I’m as eager as anyone to put it all behind us in the rearview mirror, but I’m also so grateful of what our members have made possible in 2020. 

As we close out NCIA’s 10th year as the cannabis industry’s largest and most respected trade association, I’m just in awe of all the progress that has been made for the cannabis industry in spite of so many challenges. 

When state governments were first grappling with the response to the pandemic, most deemed cannabis businesses as “essential,” allowing our industry to stay open to serve patients and adult consumers. Just a few years ago, this level of recognition as a vital sector of the economy would have been unthinkable — even to me!

What’s more, legal cannabis sales broke records throughout the months of this pandemic. It should be no surprise that #CannabisIsEssential to getting through a global pandemic. 

Although our lobbying operation went virtual this year, NCIA was able to move the ball further than ever in Congress. The House of Representatives ended the year by passing the groundbreaking MORE Act, marking the first time either chamber of Congress has approved legislation to legalize cannabis since its prohibition over 80 years ago. 

Public support for sensible marijuana policy and the legal cannabis industry stands at its all-time high. During the most divisive election in modern U.S. history, voters from across the political spectrum support ending prohibition and putting cannabis behind a regulated counter. In fact, adult-use cannabis initiatives garnered more votes than President-Elect Biden in every state where both appeared on the ballot — including the two he decisively won (New Jersey and Arizona).

The hundreds of forward-thinking businesses that support our advocacy and education efforts have made this incredible progress possible, in spite of an otherwise dismal year.  

It’s been almost ten months since we have been able to host in-person events but NCIA has continued to keep our community connected and informed through our Industry Essentials educational webinar series, Cannabis Caucus (cyber) events, and the Cannabis Business Cyber Summit.

NCIA also launched a second weekly podcast offering, The Cannabis Diversity Report, and celebrated more than 200 episodes of The Cannabis Industry Voice podcast (also top 50 U.S. Business News charts for Apple Podcasts), plus monthly live video updates with NCIA Today.

During this temporary break from face-to-face networking, we’ve created several digital sponsorship opportunities for savvy cannabis businesses to elevate their brand while also supporting the work we are doing to advance the industry.

Amidst our national reckoning over systemic racism and police brutality, NCIA launched our Equity Scholarship program which now provides membership benefits to over 100 equity operators. Thanks to the financial support of a growing number of businesses that have stepped up to support social equity in cannabis, this important program will continue to be a priority in 2021 and beyond.

2020 was also a great year to be a member of NCIA. As the only full-service trade association in the cannabis industry, we take pride in providing our members with the resources they need to gain a competitive advantage over the industry’s free-riders and isolated operators. 

Over the past year, we’ve expanded our membership benefits with the launch of our exclusive online community, NCIA Connect, as well as significant member-only discounts on Simplifya’s compliance platform. 

I take pride that NCIA is the only association in cannabis providing our members with this kind of direct ROI in addition to professional political representation in our nation’s halls of power.

Our members are building the next great American industry. It’s an honor representing them through the thick and thin. Progress takes time but the work we are doing to build support for that industry in the halls of Congress and among the voting public is paying off.

On behalf of the whole team at NCIA, I wish you a happy holiday season and new year! I hope you’re enjoying it safely with those you love.

We have even more in store for 2021 as we continue to support our members through advocacy, education, and community, so stay tuned. 

With gratitude, 

Aaron Smith
Co-founder & CEO

P.S. If you are not yet a member of NCIA but somehow read all the way to this point, please take just a couple of minutes more to join today. NCIA membership is a simple investment in the future of your business and our industry.

P.P.S If you are a member, reach out and say hello. I’d love to hear about your plans for 2021 and find out how NCIA can help your business succeed.

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

Illinois Cannabis shutterstock_1229211757

by NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For future rounds of applications, we offer these recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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


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

The full letter and analysis can be found here.

ACTION ALERT: Congress to Vote on Historic MORE Act

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act (H.R. 3884) is expected to come to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2020. NCIA has been building support for this bill in Congress for the last year and now we need your help!

Please call your member of Congress and ask them to vote YES on the MORE Act today! 

Look up your congressional representative and contact info by zip code, here.

Reference our congressional scorecard to find out if your representatives are sponsoring NCIA’s priority legislation, including the MORE Act.

Sample script to help guide your call:

Hello! My name is _______________ and I am a constituent of yours in (city, state, zip code). I am calling today to ask that Representative _____________ votes “Yes” on H.R. 3884, the MORE Act, when it comes to the Floor for a vote in December.

This bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act at the federal level, leaving marijuana policy up to the individual states. It also creates avenues towards expungement, re-sentencing, and assists those communities that have most been impacted by the failed war on marijuana. Additionally, legal cannabis is a huge economic driver and would help both the federal government and states’ revenue shortfalls during this pandemic. 

Thank you for your time today. Again, I hope Representative _____________ will vote “Yes” on H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act. 

*Feel free to tell a personal story if you feel it is relevant or powerful, but remember that staffers are busy so sometimes short and sweet is best!*

Summary of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act of 2019:

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act (H.R. 3884, S. 2227), commonly known as the MORE Act, was introduced in 2019 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Senator (now Madam Vice President-Elect) Kamala Harris (D-CA).

This bill would: 

  • Decriminalize cannabis federally: The bill removes cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, leaving cannabis policy up to the states
  • Allow for expungement of marijuana convictions and arrests, sealing of records, and re-sentencing: Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions and arrests and seal court records for those not under a current criminal justice sentence and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those under a criminal justice sentence.
  • Establish sales tax and “Opportunity Trust Funds”: Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs: 
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program, administered by the Department of Justice, would provide services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment. 
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program, administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), would provide funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. 
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program, also administered by SBA, would provide funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. 
  • Make available SBA programs and services to cannabis businesses: Specifies that the SBA may not negate eligibility for loans and other services based on a business being cannabis related. 
  • Clarify federal public benefits: Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense. 
  • Protects immigrants: Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws. 
  • Provide for data Collection: Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to assess whether people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry. 
  • Age equity for juveniles: The bill applies equally to juveniles and adults, protecting young people from harmful criminal records.

Video: NCIA Today – #Election2020 Special Episode

Did you miss the special live stream of NCIA Today this Election Day morning on Facebook? Get caught up to speed with this recording of the episode while we prepare to see results the results coming in as Americans cast their votes all across the country.

Cannabis is on the ballot in states across the country and a new Congress will be elected today, possibly the one that will end federal cannabis prohibition. Join NCIA staffers for an exclusive power hour of cannabis conversations with elected officials, Hill staffers, campaign directors, and more.

Cannabis State Ballot Measures – Facts & Figures

by Morgan Fox, NCIA’s Director of Media Relations


Ballot: Proposition 207, Smart & Safe Act (adult use)

Summary: https://smartandsafeaz.com/about/

Full language: https://mk0adassociatioy1jbg.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/I-23-2020.pdf

Main backers: Smart and Safe Arizona 

Possession: Adults 21+, 1 ounce flower or 5 grams concentrate

Home cultivation: YES, adults 121+ may have up to 6 plants in an enclosed locked location out of public view.


  • Issue no more than one marijuana establishment license per 10 pharmacies;
  • Issue no more than two marijuana establishment licenses in counties that contain no registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries;
  • Issue no more than one marijuana establishment license in counties with one nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries; and
  • Issue 26 licenses, notwithstanding the other limits, to entities qualified under the Social Equity Ownership Program.

Social Equity:
Department of Health Services would be required to establish a Social Equity Ownership Program to promote cannabis business ownership and employment for individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.

Proposition 207 would establish a fund called the Justice Reinvestment Fund (JRF). Revenue in the JRF would be allocated as follows:

  • 35 percent to local public health departments in proportion to the county’s population for the purpose of providing justice reinvestment programs or giving grants to nonprofits to provide justice reinvestment programs within the county’s area.
  • 35 percent to DHS to provide grants to nonprofits to provide justice reinvestment programs in the state.
  • 30 percent to DHS “for the purpose of addressing important public health issues” that affect Arizona.

Taxes & Revenue:

Transaction Privilege Tax (currently 5.6%)

Specific 16% excise tax (non-medical)

Revenue from the excise tax and license fees would be deposited into the Smart and Safe Arizona Fund. First, revenue would be used to implement and enforce marijuana regulations. The remaining revenue would be allocated as follows:

  • 33.0 percent for community college districts;
  • 31.4 percent for municipal police and fire departments, county sheriff departments, and fire districts;
  • 25.4 percent for the state’s Highway User Revenue Fund;
  • 10.0 percent for the new Justice Reinvestment Fund; and

Additional Resources: Proposition 7 InformationFAQ


Ballots: Initiative 65 (medical), Alternative 65A (medical, terminally ill patients only)


Full Language:

Main Backers:

  • Initiative 65 – Medical Marijuana 2020
  • Alternative 65A – Rep. John Thomas “Trey” Lamar and Rep. Brent Powell


  • Initiative 65 – Qualifying patients may purchase/possess up to two and a half (2.5) ounces every 14 days
  • Alternative 65A – Undefined, no explicit protections

Home Cultivation: NO


  • Initiative 65 – TBD by Dept. of Health; no limits on number of treatment centers; may not be located within five hundred (500) feet of a pre-existing school, church, or licensed child care center
  • Alternative 65A – Undefined

Social Equity: None explicitly included in either initiative.

Taxes & Revenue:

  • Initiative 65 – Dept. of Health may authorize taxes up to the level of the state sales tax (currently 7%); revenue to be used for special operating fund and may not revert to state general fund
  • Amendment 65A – Undefined

Additional Resources: Overview and Sample Ballot Question – IMPORTANT! These questions are worded in a confusing manner on ballots.


Ballots: Initiative 190 Marijuana Legalization Initiative (adult use), CI-118 Allow for a Legal Age for Marijuana Amendment


  • Initiative 118 would allow legislation or a citizen initiative to set the legal age limit for possession at an age higher than the state definition of adulthood (18 years old).
  • Initiative 190 would regulate cannabis for adults age 21 and older.
  • Summary of both initiatives is available here.

Full Language:

Main Backers: New Approach Montana

Possession: Adults 21+, up to one ounce of flower or 8 grams of concentrate

Home Cultivation: YES, up to four (4) plants per adult, maximum eight (8) per household.


The Department of Revenue shall develop rules and regulations regarding licensing of providers, marijuana-infused products providers, and dispensaries for adult use. For the first 12 months, only existing medical cannabis licensees may apply. Provider licenses are established in tiers based on canopy size and also include micro-business licenses. Applicants must have resided in Montana for at least one year prior and may not have been convicted of a felony involving fraud, deceit, or embezzlement or for distribution of drugs to a minor within the past 5 years. Cannabis businesses may not be located within 500 feet of a school or place of worship unless permitted by the local jurisdiction.

Social Equity: Persons convicted of behavior permitted by Initiative 190 may apply for resentencing or expungement.

Taxes & Revenue:

  • Specific sales tax – 20%
  • Revenue will be used to fund operating costs of regulation as well as to support conservation efforts, substance abuse treatment and education, veterans programs, local governments, the general fund, and other programs. More information is available here.

Additional Resources: Initiative 190 Information

New Jersey

Ballots: Question 1, Marijuana Legalization Amendment (2020)

Summary: https://www.njcan2020.org/whats-on-the-ballot/

Main Backers: NJ Can 2020

Possession: 21+, limits TBD by Legislature

Home Cultivation: TBD by Legislature

Licensing: TBD by Legislature, regulated by existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission

Social Equity: TBD by Legislature

Taxes & Revenue: Standard state sales tax of 6.625%; Legislature can authorize municipalities to impose up to an additional 2% local tax


Additional Resources: 

South Dakota

Ballots: Measure 26 (medical), Amendment A (adult use)

Summaries: https://www.southdakotamarijuana.org/the-initiatives

Full Language:

Main backers:


  • Measure 26 – Registered patients, up to three (3) ounces
  • Amendment A – Adults 21+, up to one ounce

Home Cultivation:

  • Measure 26 – Patients with home cultivation certification may grow 3 plants minimum or a number determined by their physician
  • Amendment A – 3 plants per person (6 max per household) in jurisdictions with no licensed retail stores


  • Measure 26 – TBD by Dept. of Health
  • Amendment A – TBD by Dept. of Revenue

Social Equity: None explicitly included in initiative language

Taxes & Revenue: 

  • Measure 26 – TBD by Dept. of Health and Legislature
  • Amendment A – 15% sales tax, split evenly between public school fund and state general fund after implementation and operation costs are covered.

Additional Resources:


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

By Rebecca Lee Katz, President, Pakaloh LLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: NCIA Today – Federal Policy Update, Andrew Yang, And More!

Host Bethany Moore, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Communications and host of NCIA’s weekly podcast ‘NCIA’s Cannabis Industry Voice‘ brings you an in-depth look at what is happening across the country in federal cannabis policy reform and with NCIA.

From the top, Bethany breaks the big news that former presidential candidate Andrew Yang will be keynoting the Cannabis Business Summit this year. She continues and discusses the newly-launched NCIA Facebook Live series (and podcast) Cannabis Diversity Report.

We check in with NCIA Deputy Director of Government Relations Michelle Rutter Friberg, to hear some of the recent highlights from the nation’s capital about cannabis policy reform, cannabis, COVID-19, and more. Our resident political expert breaks down the ways that NCIA is looking to help our members improve their engagement and reach in the legislative process.

Membership Manager and DEI Coordinator Tahir Johnson joins the show to discuss the recent move by NCIA to endorse the Cannaclusive Accountability list, asking all cannabis companies to adhere to promises made in the wake of racial injustices and actively strive to build a more equitable, inclusive industry.

A Third Round of SAFE Banking, HEROES 2.0 Unveiled

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

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

It may seem like a while since you got an update on the SAFE Banking Act, but I have some exciting news to share with you! 

Yesterday, House Democrats unveiled “HEROES 2.0” which is their latest COVID-19 relief package. If you’ll recall, back in May, the House also passed the initial HEROES Act, which included the text of H.R. 1595, the SAFE Banking Act. 

Since HEROES passed the House in May, NCIA has been hard at work (from home!) talking to House and Senate leadership, as well as other key Senate offices about the need to pass this legislation and solve the cannabis banking conundrum. Unfortunately, those talks have been stalled for months as congressional leadership and White House officials struggle to make a deal. 

Eager to return home in October with a victory to show, many moderates on both sides of the aisle have been stressing the importance of passing another relief package. As the language was just unveiled late yesterday evening, it’s still unclear how the Senate will react to the bill, and of course, the bill still has to clear the House of Representatives.

You might remember that just days before the first HEROES Act was passed in May, NCIA led ten cannabis advocacy and industry organizations in sending a letter to congressional leadership urging lawmakers to include SAFE in the next pandemic relief package. If the new HEROES 2.0 passes the House, it will mark the third time that the full body has approved the SAFE Banking language.

The language included in both packages is identical to the House-approved version of the bill and would make it easier for financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses that are in compliance with state law, as well as help address serious public health and safety concerns caused by operating in predominantly cash-only environments. The bill would also assist with the financial and practical hardships that are facing cannabis entrepreneurs of color as a result of a lack of access to capital from traditional lending institutions.

Make sure you stay engaged and continue to tell your lawmakers that you are a cannabis voter and that these issues are important to you! Contact your Senators today and ask that they support SAFE Banking as a necessary piece of legislation that can help the tens of thousands of cannabis workers stay healthy by allowing our industry access to legitimate banking and end our cash-only operations. 

Want to make sure you hear the latest about what’s happening in cannabis policy? Follow NCIA on social media and be sure to share important information and resources as we release them with your networks, because we’re going to need all of us in this together! 

The most important thing anyone can do to make sure SAFE Banking and other important reforms are realized in Congress is to ensure that their cannabis business is a member of NCIA. If you are not yet a member, please support our work by joining today. If you already are a member, thank you for making our advocacy work possible.

We Must Hold Ourselves Accountable To Create A Fair Cannabis Industry

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

As the nation began grappling with issues of systemic racism and inequality on a massive scale following the death of George Floyd and ensuing civil rights protests across the country, we saw an outpouring of support from members of the cannabis community. It was inspiring to see so many people standing up for justice and recognizing the disproportionate impact that prohibition has had on marginalized communities and Black people in particular.

Words, however, are not enough. Implicit in supporting positive change is the need to reflect on where we can do better – and be better – ourselves, and then taking action.

Since our initial public statement on this national reckoning early this summer, NCIA has started taking the first in what will be an ongoing series of steps to facilitate more diverse representation, participation, and access to opportunities in our industry. We instituted a Social Equity Scholarship Program to provide complimentary first-year membership and other benefits to licensees and applicants in state and local social equity programs and recently launched the #CatalystConversations webinar series to provide them with valuable information and amplify their voices. We have created a staff position to directly engage staff, membership, and allies to critically analyze and expand upon our progress. And, we are currently establishing an Opportunity Fund to help support and expand our scholarship program, and assist disenfranchised members and the organizations fighting for them. But we still have a long way to go.

As part of our efforts, we are also encouraging cannabis and ancillary businesses to commit to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry and to hold themselves to those commitments by participating in The Accountability List by Cannaclusive.

The Accountability List gives businesses and organizations the opportunity to show consumers, the industry, and policymakers what they are actively doing to promote fairness and inclusivity in cannabis and beyond. We encourage everyone in the cannabis space to stand up for justice, be honest about where they can improve, and commit to doing so in the most forthright, measurable, and transparent ways possible.

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

Ending cannabis prohibition and improving diversity in the industry is not going to eliminate systemic racism or fully repair all the death and destruction committed in the name of the war on drugs, but together we can make a real difference and help create a better future.

NCIA, our Board of Directors, and I stand firmly in support of people fighting to end racial injustice and ensure a fair cannabis industry with equitable opportunities for all. We hope you’ll stand with us.


Video: NCIA Today – New Equity Scholarship Program, New NCIA Connect Member Benefit, And More!

Host Bethany Moore, NCIA’s Communications Manager and host of NCIA’s weekly Podcast ‘NCIA’s Cannabis Industry Voice‘ brings you an in-depth look at what is happening across the country in federal cannabis policy reform and with NCIA.

This episode is sponsored by NCIA Connect, the newest member benefit from NCIA.


From the top, Bethany discusses the #IndustryEssentials webinar series, highlighting the topics covered in the echelon of digital webinar content the NCIA team has been bringing you the last few months. Topics have included protecting your brand and retail success strategies to a Policy Council conversation titled “Just Say NO: Keep The DEA Out of Cannabis Research.” We’ve been joined by Representatives Lou Correa (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Missed a live webinar? NCIA Members can access them exclusively on Connect now.

In June, our exclusive education and policy event series the cannabis caucus series to a cyber audience. The fun, online setting allowed our members across the country to come together over two weeks and check in on federal and local updates on policy and regulation updates that could affect them. NCIA launched the latest phase of our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion plan in June. This included making Tahir Johnson our Business Development and DEI Manager, and spearheading the DEI initiatives and committee. The first action taken has been creating the Social Equity Scholarship Program, which will award complimentary annual memberships to all social equity licensees and applicants.

NCIA Director of Marketing, Kaliko Castille, checks in with Bethany to discuss NCIA Connect, our newest membership benefit.

Finally, we end with a check-in with our CEO Aaron Smith

Announcing NCIA’s Equity Scholarship Program

As I’m sure it has been for so many of you, the last month has been a time of deep reflection for all of us here at NCIA. 

The national awakening to horrific police violence and the systemic racism that black and brown communities have endured for centuries is long overdue. 

Marijuana prohibition is inextricably linked to a history of racism going back to the days before Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics who said, “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

This history, while vile and disgusting, proves that our industry is also inherently tied to the politics of race. This is something that we must come to terms with if we are to build an industry that is not only inclusive but also contributes to the effort to repair the damage prohibition has inflicted upon marginalized communities under prohibition.

It bears repeating that while people of different races consume cannabis at roughly the same levels, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. These enforcement disparities continue to exist, even in states that have legalized cannabis for adult use.

Unfortunately, too many people from these same communities have found their access to the emerging legal cannabis industry restricted, from discriminatory laws that refused licenses to those with past nonviolent drug convictions, to inexcusably high licensing fees and a lack of access to capital.      

To that end, we recognize that although NCIA mostly represents small and medium-sized businesses and has done some good as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion over the years — historically, a lack of affordable access for equity operators has led to a structural inequity at NCIA that we are committed to change.

As a trade association, membership unlocks exclusive member benefits that help give business owners and employees a leg up on their competition. We offer these benefits to help our members and so that we can fund our national advocacy efforts to end the destructive policies of marijuana prohibition.

Some of these benefits include eligibility to serve on our member-led committees, speak at our trade shows and webinars, submit content to our Industry Insights blog, and serve on our board of directors, as well as participate in exclusive networking events and opportunities.

In order to do our part to help level the playing field for equity operators, and to foster greater diversity within the NCIA community, we’re pleased to announce the launch of our Equity Scholarship Program, available to all equity licensees and qualified applicants. 

This program includes:

  • Complimentary year-long membership for any equity business applicant or licensee
  • Complimentary tickets to our trade shows 
  • Discounts on all NCIA digital sponsorship products
  • Access to exclusive monthly mentor meetings

Equity applicants and license holders are encouraged to apply for this program online today

NCIA will also be launching an Opportunity Fund that we will work to raise money for in order to help provide further opportunities to equity operators and expand the benefits of the program.

Already, our Business Development team has been enrolling new equity members from California to Massachusetts. While NCIA’s larger Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion initiative is under development for launch by Fall 2020, new members are being matched with internal resources by our DEI Manager Tahir Johnson.

We recognize that offering only words is insufficient during this historic moment. 

We hope that this program will lead to systemic change in our organization and industry by providing an opportunity and a platform for equity businesses to engage with the broader industry so that they can feel empowered to grow their business like every other American entrepreneur. 

If you know someone who is a social equity applicant or license holder, please send this link to have them apply.

If you aren’t a social equity operator but interested in helping to support this program, please fill out this form and our team will reach out with more information about how you can help.

Myself, our staff, and board of directors couldn’t be more excited about this program and our organization’s renewed commitment to a future where our industry reflects the diversity of our nation and has helped lift up communities that have beared the brunt of decades of the oppressive regime of marijuana prohibition.


For justice,

Aaron Smith
Co-founder & CEO
National Cannabis Industry Association


*Photo Credit: CannaClusive

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

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Member Blog: Social Equity In Illinois

Illinois Cannabis shutterstock_1229211757

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are the rules?

For principal officers applying for licenses:

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

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

For employees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Illicit Cannabis Market Puts Consumers At-Risk and Is an Existential Threat to the State-Legal Cannabis Industry 

by Andrew Kline, NCIA Director of Public Policy

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

The illicit market is not working for anyone. The illicit market puts consumers at risk by offering untested, unregulated, and dangerous products, including “vape cartridges” filled with additives that are not intended for inhalation. These illicit vape products alone have caused 2,768 injuries and 64 deaths to date nationally. Pop-up dispensaries are selling illicit, unregulated, and untested products to unwitting consumers. Unscrupulous people are unlawfully selling cannabis products over the internet in violation of state and federal law, and online platforms are enabling the illicit market by advertising for illegal online and brick and mortar stores. Counterfeit and ready-to-fill packaging is being sold with fake lab results, batch numbers, and barcodes. Illegal growers are causing serious environmental harms. Even illicit market operators with the best intentions still put consumers at risk when they sell untested products produced in unregulated facilities.  

And these illicit operators pose an existential threat to the regulated markets that voters have demanded.  Operators are laying out significant funds for licenses and compliance to compete against an illegal, untested, unregulated, untaxed marketplace. Law enforcement is playing whack-a-mole. Consumers are often unaware of which operators are legal, particularly where illegal operators often have a veneer of legitimacy or have stolen the intellectual property of these regulated businesses to gain consumer trust. We need to make certain that reliable and safer products (tracked, tagged, and tested) are being sold in the regulated market. Trust in the safety of the supply chain is key here, with laboratory testing, traceability, and safeguards (eg: ability for recalls) as mandatory prerequisites. 

On February 19, 2020, NCIA, along with NCIA’s Policy Council, former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Commissioner Britte McBride, public safety appointee on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, partnered to facilitate an important discussion with law enforcement, advocates, and industry stakeholders seeking solutions to the illicit cannabis market. The summit brought together federal, state and local law enforcement; state regulators, cannabis entrepreneurs and multi-state operators, ancillary technology companies, and social equity experts. The purpose of the summit was to dialogue about the illicit cannabis market with the goal of developing recommendations on resources, policies, best practices, and public-private partnerships to share information.

Here are some key takeaways:

First, the cannabis industry needs to help law enforcement find alternatives to arrest and incarceration. Some states have been creative in their approach to combating the illicit market, by locking doors and shutting off electricity and water, levying fines, and prosecuting tax evasion. It is essential that we rely most heavily on alternatives to arrest and prosecution so that we don’t perpetuate the myriad problems associated with the “war on drugs.” 

Second, the industry must better define the illicit market. The illicit market looks very different in Idaho than it does in Colorado. In Idaho, all sales are illegal and diversion from legal states into Idaho is a serious problem. In Colorado, state regulators are concerned about unsafe products being manufactured and sold outside of the state regulatory regime. So, we need to take a hard look at the products that are causing the most significant problems (injuries and deaths) and focus our attention on the most serious of those cases. Until we prioritize what we deem to be illicit market activity, it will be difficult to prioritize limited law enforcement resources. 

Third, the industry needs to definitively determine the root cause of the illicit market. We know that three probable causes of illicit market activity are: (1) lack of legal access to cannabis and cannabis products and (2) price disparity between legal and illicit markets, largely due to high taxes of legal products, and (3) a lack of economic opportunities in marginalized communities causing people to turn to illicit sales. But, what are other causes and effects? 

Fourth, the industry needs a forum for collaboration with law enforcement. The middle of a crisis is not the time to develop relationships. 

Fifth, the industry needs a pathway for illicit market operators to enter the legal market. We can’t displace the illicit market unless we create a pathway for previous illicit market entrepreneurs to enter the legal market. That means that states must create realistic pathways to enter the regulated market for legacy illicit market actors. There are an increasing number of potential models here, from the states such as Massachusetts (which has led on attempting to prioritize social equity during license application processes) and Illinois (which made such pathways a key point in the legislation to create a legal market) to industry groups such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association (which has published recommendations for state regulators intent on incorporating social equity requirements into their licensee applications). 

Sixth, law enforcement has competing demands and needs help prioritizing cases. What are the most egregious cases that warrant criminal arrest and prosecution? What are the cases that warrant automatic expungement? And what do we do with the cases that fall in between? 

Finally, the industry needs to speak with one voice and start rowing in the same direction. The industry needs national messaging from states that have a regulated market to help dispel myths and prepare warnings for responsible use. We need to share information on packaging and labeling, testing, universal symbols, etc., nationally. And most significantly, the industry needs to start speaking with one voice and work to bring legacy businesses into the regulated market. NCIA’s Policy Council is committed to continuing efforts to create a safe place for everyone in the industry to begin that dialogue. 

Andrew Kline is the Director of Public Policy for the National Cannabis Industry Association and leads NCIA’s Policy Council. He can be reached at Andrew@TheCannabisIndustry.org 

Looking Back On Ten Years Of Cannabis Reform – The Road Behind, The Struggle Ahead

By Morgan Fox, NCIA Media Relations Director

NCIA’s Media Relations Director, Morgan Fox

August in Washington D.C. means heat, which is probably a big reason why lawmakers take the month off and return to their home states before coming back to confront the issues of the day. With this Congress – which has been more supportive of cannabis policy reform than any in history – out on recess, it seems like a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a movement and as an industry, we well as to recognize how much farther we still need to go.

I’ve been working exclusively on cannabis issues for more than a decade, and when I started my first job in the field at the Marijuana Policy Project all those years ago, the landscape looked much different. At the time, there were only a handful of states with effective medical cannabis laws, and no states where it was legal for adults. Opponents would consistently claim that cannabis has no medical value with a straight face, and people would believe them. The nonsensical argument that providing medicine to sick people would somehow lead all teenagers to become addicted to hard drugs often ruled the day and frequently delayed reform efforts. Access to cannabis, even in states with good laws, was limited and hard fought. Cannabis consumption by anyone except the most seriously, visibly ill people was largely portrayed as criminal and immoral.

Now, cannabis is legal for adults in 11 states, D.C., and two territories; 33 states and several territories have comprehensive medical cannabis laws; and nearly every state allows cannabis in some form. Tens of millions of people can now safely access cannabis without fear of arrest. Dozens of states are looking at cannabis policy reform legislation every year, and we can expect to see several ballot initiative campaigns taking place next year.

As more and more states have regulated cannabis in some way, new legal markets have emerged, allowing the industry to grow and thrive in many ways. At the start of my involvement, there were a shockingly small number of cannabis businesses, and the problems they faced were quite different than what we tend to deal with today. Non-existent access to banking was of trivial concern when the threat of raids by armed federal agents was a daily concern. Videos of jack-booted thugs pointing rifles at disabled patients and dragging dozens of plants out of smashed windows were commonplace. Long prison sentences for cultivators and providers were the norm.

New state laws and increasing public acceptance helped to ease the crackdown on the cannabis industry, but the real game changer came in the form of an unexpected federal policy directive. In 2013, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a directive to federal prosecutors, telling them not to target businesses or individuals who were in compliance with state cannabis laws. Known as the Cole Memo, this directive did not carry the force of law and did not prevent the enforcement of federal prohibition. Some Department of Justice employees took it more seriously than others. However, it did drastically reduce the number of prosecutions of state-legal cannabis businesses, and gave people enough confidence to really pull out all the stops. Since then, the industry has grown and professionalized by leaps and bounds. Huge trade shows, once unheard-of, are now commonplace and attracting people from a wide range of professions. Businesses no longer hide in the shadows, but are actively competing for exposure. There are now more than ten thousand licensed plant-touching businesses in the U.S., and many thousands more ancillary businesses working in the cannabis space. According to a recent report by Leafly, more than 200,000 jobs have been created by the legal cannabis industry.

One of the most important changes to happen over the years is the increased and deeper focus on justice in the cannabis reform movement, including equity in the cannabis industry. Legalization has always been about freedom and justice, but it has largely been talked about in the general sense of the injustice of criminalizing people for consuming a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol. The disproportionate harms inflicted on people of color and the destructive impact that prohibition has had on entire communities for generations were well known to many, but it wasn’t until the ACLU released its groundbreaking report that these facts started gaining more attention in the public sphere. It has still taken far too long for this issue to come to the forefront of the cannabis policy debate, but things are moving in the right direction. Most modern legalization legislation now contains provisions related to expungement, community reinvestment, and equity in the emerging cannabis industry, and indeed these are now required in order to be taken seriously by voters, activists, and policymakers. But it wasn’t always so. 

During the ballot initiative campaign for Amendment 64, which would go on to pass in November 2012 and make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate cannabis for adults, polling showed that including even a limited provision to expunge minor cannabis convictions would have killed the chances of victory. Fast forward to this year, where legislation to make cannabis legal in New Jersey stalled because it did not go far enough to address the disparate harms caused by the war on cannabis. Illinois, the first state to regulate cannabis through its legislature, included language in its legalization bill which passed earlier this year that will expunge the vast majority of marijuana convictions and will help to ensure that people of color can take advantage of the opportunities being created by the legal cannabis market. And even Congress is starting to come around, with multiple active bills containing restorative justice provisions being considered and a House subcommittee holding a groundbreaking hearing on the issue this summer.

Speaking of Congress, the differences between now and then could not be more stark. Until somewhat recently, there was little appetite for addressing cannabis policy reform, and tremendous opposition from both sides of the aisle. While states continued to pass cannabis legislation, most federal lawmakers wouldn’t go near the subject except to shut it down. Even those whose own states had passed good laws were actively undermining their constituents. In 2014, an amendment was added to the annual spending bill that codified the protections outlined in the Cole Memo, but only for medical cannabis programs. Despite this provision being included in all subsequent budgets, it was never extended to adult use programs. Progress on stand-alone bills related to cannabis was generally slow and did not receive serious consideration in either chamber.

This Congress has been extremely different. Dozens of cannabis bills addressing all sorts of issues have been introduced, often with bipartisan support. Hearings have actually been held and taken seriously in the House and Senate, often with mostly supportive testimony. The SAFE Banking Act, which would provide safe harbor for financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses and increase access to capital for small businesses and disenfranchised communities, has seen unprecedented movement and support this year. In the House, it has 206 cosponsors and was approved with a bipartisan vote in the Financial Services Committee. It now waits to be called for a vote, which it will likely win. In the Senate, despite some lingering opposition, key committee heads and Republican leaders are softening their stances and held an informational hearing on the bill last month. More comprehensive bills such as the Marijuana Justice Act, the FAIR Act and the MORE Act are being given more attention than we’ve ever seen for legislation that would deschedule cannabis. It seems that politicians are finally catching up to public opinion and are more comfortable with supporting reform in the open.

Some of the credit for this can be given to the media. When discussing this topic, I always like to relate a story told to me by my first boss in cannabis policy reform. In the late 2000’s, he called CNN’s newsroom to pitch a story about a new positive cannabis study. He identified himself and his organization at the beginning of the call, which prompted the person on the other end to start laughing so hard they had to put my boss on hold. When they finally returned, they greeted him by saying “OK, Mr. Marijuana. How can we help you?” Needless to say, the story did not get picked up.

For years, we’ve had to deal with a media environment where cannabis policy reform was treated as a joke at best, and as a horrible scourge at worst. Stories were riddled with bad puns (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the phrases “blunt truth” or “clearing the smoke” or “hazy proposition” in headlines), or only referred to cannabis as “pot” or something equally stigmatizing. Many of them took prohibitionists at their word as they spewed falsehoods and fear, while giving limited or no space to reformers. Most major media outlets were not even interested in looking at the issue to begin with.

All that has changed. Cannabis is finally being taken seriously, and news organizations are devoting massive resources to covering it and even creating cannabis beats for dedicated journalists. Dozens, if not hundreds, of cannabis-specific publications are now available, with advertisers clambering for space in them. The coverage is much more fair, and the puns are (mostly) gone. Changes in the way the media talks about cannabis have certainly had a positive impact on how the public, and by extension lawmakers, thinks about this issue.

It can be tempting to look at all this progress and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, and in some senses it is deserved. Tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding individuals around the country will no longer be saddled with the disastrous consequences of having a criminal record every year. Hundreds of thousands are gainfully employed in an industry that is steadily displacing the illicit market while making cannabis safer and less stigmatized. The federal government is getting closer and closer to making real progress on cannabis issues. Support for legalization is a ubiquitous topic in the 2020 presidential field and has become almost a prerequisite for being considered as a serious candidate. Two-thirds of Americans think cannabis should be legal for adults. All of this is a world away from where we were a decade ago, and the benefits being reaped because of the hard work of advocates are significant. 

But we have a long way yet to go.

There are still roughly half a million cannabis arrests in the U.S. annually, mostly at the state level. The majority of states have yet to regulate cannabis for adults, and support for doing so in many of them is still very weak. Advocates and industry leaders need to redouble their efforts to reach out to lawmakers, voters, stakeholders and communities, and work with them to pass sensible cannabis legislation. Even states with relatively good laws still need help: home cultivation is still illegal in Washington state, for example, and Vermont and D.C. do not yet have regulated cannabis markets or legal sales.

State and local restorative justice efforts have had limited success, to put it generously. Funds intended for community reinvestment have been diverted or delayed, and equity programs are sometimes being exploited by predatory operators. High application fees, arbitrary license caps, criminal record bans and other unnecessary barriers of entry are preventing marginalized people from becoming a part of this industry. Decreasing arrests, while vitally important, cannot be the only gain made by disproportionately impacted communities as we continue to reform our cannabis laws.

Despite growing support for change in Congress, cannabis is still a relatively low priority for most federal lawmakers. Without constant pressure on them, reform will come slowly or not at all. NCIA’s in-house federal lobbying team, as well as outreach efforts like our annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days, help keep this conversation going at the Capitol and sway legislators to our side. Federal legalization is far from inevitable, and we are committed to maintaining and increasing our efforts to make sure it happens.

But we need your help. Now is the time to get involved, get active, and help end prohibition once and for all while we build a responsible, competitive, and inclusive cannabis industry. We still have much work to do, but if the accomplishments of the last decade tell us anything, it’s that we can do this together.


Keeping the Momentum During August Recess

by Madeline Grant and Michelle Rutter, NCIA Government Relations Managers

The sun is hot, and the halls of Capitol Hill are empty… it must be August recess, but as your congressional representatives take a break from their busy schedule in D.C., we are still hard at work in the nation’s capital. We are continuing the momentum that the 116th Congress has had in changing cannabis policy. This summer there were many important hearings and events. Let’s take a look back at a few of them:

  • In June, the House Committee on Small Business held a hearing entitled “Unlocked Potential? Small Businesses in the Cannabis Industry.” The hearing allowed members of the Committee to learn about the opportunities the legitimate cannabis industry presents for small businesses in states with legal cannabis, as well as entrepreneurs from traditionally underserved communities. The hearing also discussed the challenges also faced by “ancillary” or “indirect” cannabis businesses. The Chairwoman of NCIA’s Banking Access Committee, Dana Chaves, testified, as well as representatives from the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), the Veterans Cannabis Coalition (VCC), and The Heritage Foundation. In the testimony NCIA submitted for the record, we wrote, “[SBA] programs were specifically designed to stimulate economic activity and create jobs through small-business enterprises. Offering funding to the emerging regulated cannabis industry, which is mostly comprised of small businesses, would perfectly align with SBA’s primary objective to maintain and strengthen the Nation’s economy.” You can read NCIA’s full testimony here. 
  • In addition to the Small Business Committee hearing, there was a resounding, victorious Floor vote in June that put every single member of the House of Representatives on the record when it comes to cannabis. Known as the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment, this provision that was added to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act of 2020, passed by a vote of 267-165 and would prevent any federal funds from being used to target state-legal cannabis programs. The vote was decisive: it had support from all but eight Democrats and picked up 41 ‘Ayes’ from Republicans.  
  • In July, for the first time ever, lawmakers in the House of Representatives held a hearing to address the disproportionate ways in which marijuana prohibition has negatively impacted people of color and marginalized communities. The hearing, entitled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform,” was called by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and exclusively featured testimony from witnesses in favor of sweeping cannabis policy reforms. Notably, none of the members of the subcommittee or witnesses advocated for keeping cannabis illegal. 
  • Less than a month ago, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a public hearing, “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to discuss the current banking challenges faced by the legal cannabis industry and to assess the unintended consequences and public safety risks associated with commercial businesses operating in an all-cash environment. Earlier this year, to help find close the gap between federal and state cannabis laws, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced S. 1200 – The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, to provide protections for financial institutions that engage with state-legal cannabis-related businesses, including ancillary businesses that have a connection with cannabis businesses. The bill currently has 31 cosponsors in the Senate and is expected to have a House floor vote this Fall.  
  • NCIA stayed busy outside the halls of Congress, too. In June, NCIA responded and submitted public comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) request for comments on Scientific Data and Information About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-Derived Compounds. Given the substantial interest in this topic and the need for regulations and standardization throughout the industry, NCIA and this coalition are providing specific insight into all facets the FDA would like to examine, including health and safety risks, manufacturing and product quality, and marketing, labeling, and sales.

Since your representatives are not here in D.C., you don’t need to buy a plane ticket for them to hear your voice. Many representatives take this month to listen to their constituents, so there are many opportunities to speak to your members of Congress and make your voice heard. Go to https://townhallproject.com/ to find town halls in your area, invite your members of Congress to tour your business, or go visit their local office and schedule a meeting. 

This is an important time in our country – history is changing right before our eyes. Cannabis policy has taken huge steps just these past months, and we cannot let that momentum stop. With your continued advocacy and support, we can continue to lead the change in our community. 

Do you have questions or want to learn more about how you can help our efforts on Capitol Hill? We’d love to connect and tell you more via email or phone. Please send an email to Madeline@TheCannabisIndustry to set up an appointment to chat. 


Member Blog: The Power Of Numbers

by Kary Radestock, Hippo Premium Packaging

This month, the cannabis industry gathers in San Jose for the NCIA’s 6th Annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo. It is projected that nearly 10,000 people will attend. 

Think about that number for a minute. Ten thousand. Just a handful of years ago, some cannabis conferences were struggling to attract 500 people. 

This explosion in the cannabis industry has had a profound effect on our nation:

Tens of thousands of businesses have started – spurring economic growth and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. According to Leafly, there are now more than 211,000 cannabis jobs across the United States. More than 64,000 of those jobs were added in 2018. 

Legal cannabis is currently the greatest job-creation machine in America. The cannabis workforce increased 21% in 2017, gained another 44% in 2018, and is expected to grow another 20% in 2019. Those are record-setting numbers.

Real estate is another sector that is booming thanks to legal cannabis. A recent study led by a by a University of Mississippi economist concluded that legal retail cannabis in Colorado increased housing values. Researchers compared cities that permitted the sale of cannabis with those that did not and found that the availability of recreational cannabis in a given area created strong housing demand and higher increases in property values.

Clearly, legal cannabis is creating jobs, opportunities, and economic growth. 

But there is a dark side to the cannabis numbers. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, arrests for cannabis possession account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. In 2017, 659,700 were arrested in the U.S. for cannabis. Over 90% of those arrests were for simple possession. Moreover, 46.9% of people arrested for drug law violations are Black or Latino, despite making up just 31.5% of the U.S. population. Additionally, over 200,000 students have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction.

As a nation, we must ask ourselves, how does imprisoning someone or taking away their chance at receiving an education because they possessed a small amount of cannabis (or other drug), make our country better, stronger, or greater?

Since this blog is dedicated to numbers, I’ll leave you with this one: It takes 100,000 atoms to become visible to the human eye, and even at that amount, it is only about the width of a human hair. 

But it takes far fewer people to make a difference in society. Our last presidential election was won by the candidate that received over 2 million fewer votes, but won the electoral college by having just a few more votes in some key states. Just 0.2 points or about 10,000 votes separated the candidates in Michigan. Only 0.7 points or about 22,000 votes made the difference in Wisconsin.

This is not a time for us in the cannabis industry to be complacent. We have won some hard-fought victories, but there is still much to do, many wrongs to right, and a lot of work ahead. 

My hope is that everyone in this amazing industry will share the belief that while we have a lot to be thankful for, we still need to keep moving forward and progressively for a better future. 

Get involved. Make your voice heard. And vote. 

Enjoy the conference!

CEO Kary Radestock

Kary Radestock, CEO, launched Hippo Premium Packaging in March 2016 offering an array of services to the cannabis market, including: Marketing Strategy, Brand Development, Social Media, Public Relations, Graphic and Web Design, and of course, Printing and Packaging. Radestock brings over 20 years of award-winning print and packaging expertise, and leads a team of the nation’s top brand builders, marketers and print production experts. Hippo works with businesses looking for a brand refresh or an entire brand development, and specializes in helping canna-business get their products to market in the most beautiful and affordable way possible. Radestock’s Creative Collective of talent and experts, allows her to offer world-class solutions to support the unique needs of the Cannabis Industry. 



Re-Cap of House Judiciary Hearing on Marijuana Laws in America

On Wednesday, for the first time ever, lawmakers in the House of Representatives held a hearing to address the disproportionate ways in which marijuana prohibition has negatively impacted people of color and marginalized communities. The hearing, entitled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform,” was called by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and exclusively featured testimony from witnesses in favor of sweeping cannabis policy reforms.

Notably, none of the members of the subcommittee or witnesses advocated for keeping cannabis illegal.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) participated as acting subcommittee Ranking Member, and began his opening statement by saying, “Marijuana decriminalization may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session.” He added, “it ought to be crystal clear to everyone that our laws have not accomplished their goals.”

Chairwoman of the subcommittee, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), also gave strong opening remarks: “The collateral consequences of even an arrest for marijuana can be devastating. These exclusions create an often permanent second class status for millions of Americans. Like drug war enforcement itself, these consequences fall disproportionately on people of color.”

While there seemed to be a consensus on reforming our outdated cannabis laws, how to reform them was more murky than anything else. Essentially all of the Republicans who spoke during the hearing iterated their support for the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, while Democrats on the subcommittee stressed the need for reforms that address equity, inclusivity, and diversity — which the STATES Act does not address in any way.

NCIA’s written testimony, submitted at the hearing by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), urges Congress to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (commonly known as de-scheduling); to enact legislation repairing the damage prohibition has inflicted on communities of color; and to begin the process of regulating cannabis products at the federal level. However, NCIA also recognizes that the STATES Act (and other incremental reforms) deserve the support of the industry, given that it addresses many of the problems plaguing cannabis businesses today.

On behalf of the largest and most-diverse membership base of any cannabis trade association in the U.S., NCIA’s team in D.C. is continuing to work with allies in Congress to end federal prohibition and replace it with federal jurisdiction that benefits an inclusive, diverse, and legal cannabis industry.

NCIA thanks our nearly 2,000 members who have made this progress possible. If your business is not yet a member of NCIA, please join the movement today.

Top Ten Reasons NCIA Supports De-Scheduling Cannabis

Today, the House Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security) is holding a hearing on marijuana policy reform proposals and related social equity provisions. While NCIA supports the STATES Act and other incremental approaches to reform, we strongly prefer a longer-term approach that includes de-scheduling cannabis and the inclusion of robust social equity provisions. Let’s get this right the first time around.

Below are the top ten reasons to support de-scheduling: 

1. De-scheduling is good public policy because cannabis should not be classified alongside dangerous drugs like heroin and methamphetamines, and cannabis has proven medicinal properties and is safer for adults than alcohol and many over-the-counter medicines.  

2. De-scheduling automatically solves the banking problems plaguing the cannabis industry and automatically cures issues related to the unfair tax provisions imposed by 280E.

3. De-scheduling removes many of the roadblocks in the way of creating an industry that prioritizes and promotes social equity and inclusion.

4. De-Scheduling would allow for cannabis to be transported across state lines in accordance with interstate trade compacts, opening opportunities for licensed growers to get their product into more markets and to stabilize supply and demand issues currently facing some state markets.

5. De-scheduling takes regulatory authority away from the DEA and creates opportunities for the federal government to regulate marijuana through FDA and Treasury with regimes that are more appropriate, given the relative harm of cannabis compared to other adult products.

6. De-scheduling immediately makes federal research and grants possible. 

7. De-scheduling immediately changes current immigration policy that prohibits people with “bad moral character” from applying for citizenship because of their work in the cannabis industry. 

8. De-scheduling allows for the provision of bankruptcy protection for cannabis-related businesses.

9. De-scheduling would allow veterans access to plant-based medicine and retention of VA benefits if they choose to use medicinal marijuana.

10. De-scheduling still allows for state autonomy while simultaneously providing for federal continuity.


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

Illinois Cannabis shutterstock_1229211757

by Payal Shah, Cannabis Insight Collective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Small Business Committee Congressional Hearing – The Cannabis Industry’s Unlocked Potential

by Michelle Rutter, NCIA’s Government Relations Manager

On Wednesday, June 19, the House Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing entitled “Unlocked Potential? Small Businesses in the Cannabis Industry.” This is the first time in history that this committee has ever considered this topic! As the nation’s oldest and largest trade association, NCIA is proud to represent thousands of small businesses at this hearing.

The hearing will “focus on the opportunities the legitimate cannabis industry presents for small businesses in states with legal cannabis, as well as entrepreneurs from traditionally underserved communities. The hearing will also enable members of Congress to explore the challenges currently faced by those businesses, and also those of “ancillary” or “indirect” cannabis businesses who may not be directly involved in the production or distribution of cannabis products.”

NCIA has been proud to work very closely with the House committee on this hearing. As a result, Dana Chaves, who is chairwoman of NCIA’s Banking Access Committee and the Senior Vice President and Director of Specialty Banking at First Federal Bank of Florida will be testifying at the hearing!

Other witnesses will include Shanita Penny, M.B.A., President of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Eric Goepel, Founder & CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition, and Paul Larkin, who is the John, Barbara, and Victoria Rumpel Senior Legal Research Fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

The Committee memo also states “the marijuana legalization movement brings new opportunities for entrepreneurship and business start-up in the cannabis industry. Because this is such a nascent sector, legalization also allows policymakers to increase equity and diversity in the cannabis industry, which can take the form of addressing financial barriers to market entry and ensuring the industry reflects the local community.” It also recognizes that “because this is such a nascent sector, legalization also allows policymakers to increase equity and diversity in the cannabis industry, which can take the form of addressing financial barriers to market entry and ensuring the industry reflects the local community.”

According to a recent Leafly report, “Annual [cannabis] sales nationwide are nearing the $11 billion mark. And the number of Americans directly employed in this booming industry has soared to more than 211,000. When indirect and ancillary jobs—think of all the lawyers, accountants, security consultants, media companies, and marketing firms that service the cannabis industry—are added, along with induced jobs (local community jobs supported by the spending of cannabis industry paychecks), the total number of full-time American jobs that depend on legal cannabis rises to a whopping 296,000.”

NCIA applauds the House Committee on Small Business and Chairwoman Velazquez (D-NY) for discussing this important topic. NCIA is proud to represent all of the cannabis industry’s small businesses!

Committee Blog: Social Justice in the Cannabis Industry – Your Answers Will Take Minutes, But The Impact Could Be Long-Lasting

By Rudy Schreier, MMLG
NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee’s Social Justice Subcommittee

The cannabis industry is evolving at light speed. From nationwide legalization, to massive corporations developing green thumbs, cannabis culture is shifting daily. Exciting, yes, but this rapid cultural shift poses a threat to social justice by disregarding the harms caused by the war on drugs. Now, more than ever, the cannabis industry needs to come together and determine a course of action to ensure that social justice isn’t brushed aside.

Where should we start? And how can all of us in the industry handle something as daunting as social justice with the appropriate sensitivity? Let’s review some of the basics.

Cannabis has been aggressively policed since the mid-to-late twentieth century. Minorities from marginalized communities were disproportionately punished for cannabis crimes, contributing to the rise of mass incarceration. Those same communities punished for past involvement with cannabis face an extremely high barrier of entry in the newly legal industry. Many cities and states are adopting social equity programs to lower the barrier. For example, Los Angeles recently approved $10.5 million in funding over the next three years for its social equity program. Initiatives like Los Angeles’ are a step in the right direction; however, there’s still a lot more to be done.

While social justice in the cannabis industry is a new focus for some, others have been fighting for decades. Omar Figueroa, a cannabis lawyer and advocate located in Northern California, helped to convince the Sonoma County District Attorney to clear cannabis convictions and has defended numerous activists pro bono over the years. When asked how the cannabis industry should address social justice, Omar replied, “[We need to] provide grants and loans to address disparities in access to capital, continue to advocate against cannabis prohibition, and create a leadership institute to empower people directly affected by the war on cannabis.” Omar, like many other committed ‘canna-pros’, are constantly fighting for fair and equitable practices in our industry. With so much work to be done, it can be challenging figuring out where to start. This is where you come in.

As we build the new cannabis culture, we have the unique opportunity to do things differently, ethically, and better. NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee’s Social Justice Subcommittee is developing an approach to social justice for the cannabis industry, and we need your help. Since we can’t tackle everything, we’re asking you to make your voice heard and help us navigate the difficult terrain ahead. Please take this 4-question survey about what social justice should mean in the cannabis industry. Your answers will take minutes, but the impact could be long-lasting. Feeling ambitious? Share this ‘gram-sized graphic’ in your own social channels to spread the ‘poll power’ far and wide!

Interested in learning more? NCIA’s Social Justice Subcommittee will be hosting a panel titled “Cannabis Reform Stops Short: Why We Can’t Let Social Justice Get Lost” at NCIA’s Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in San Jose on Tuesday, July 23, from 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM. Register for the conference today!

Take the social justice survey now!

Marketing and Advertising Committee: (MAC) of National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) — develops best practices in cannabis industry marketing /education, opening dialogues with media outlets that ban cannabis-related advertising.

Social Justice Subcommittee: An arm of the MAC committee, the aim is to ensure that social justice issues are positively addressed via cannabis reform. Team Members: MMLG, Cannawise, Canna Advisors, Annabis.

The Author: From operations and marketing, to office and project management, Rudy Schreier wears many hats for the Los Angeles-based licensing and compliance consultancy MMLG. Schreier co-founded the #StartsAtThePolls campaign, which utilized social media platforms to inform voters on how to register to vote, how to get to the polls, and pro-cannabis candidates running for the 2018 elections.

The Panel: Be sure to catch the Social Justice Subcommittee’s panel featuring Lisa Jordan (Canna Advisors), Omar Figueroa (Law Offices of Omar Figueroa), Shanita Penny (Minority Cannabis Business Association), and Felicia Carbajal (The Social Impact Center) at NCIA’s Cannabis Business Summit & Expo titled, “Cannabis Reform Stops Short: Why We Can’t Let Social Justice Get Lost.”

NCIA’s 9th Annual Lobby Days – Strength in Numbers, Power in Progress

Just two short weeks ago, NCIA hosted our 9th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days. This impactful event brought over 250 NCIA members to our nation’s capital to advocate and lobby on important issues facing our industry like access to financial services, amending IRC Section 280E, and addressing social equity.

Over the course of 48 hours, attendees met with nearly 300 congressional offices to share their stories and experiences, and dropped off informational materials to 200 offices that we did not schedule meetings with. In addition to these meetings, we had two briefings, held a PAC fundraiser, and hosted our first-ever VIP Day for members of our Leadership Circle. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from this important event:

To kick off our first-ever VIP Day, we held a briefing at the House of Representatives entitled “SAFE Banking: Where We Are, and Where We’re Going,” where Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the lead sponsor of HR 1595, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, kicked off the day. On the panel was Tanner Daniel of the American Bankers Association, Becky Dansky of SARBA, and Gail Rand of ForwardGro, while attendees included NCIA members, congressional staff, and members of the press.








Following the briefing on banking, VIP Day attendees were shuttled to a luncheon featuring Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Katie Porter (D-CA), Gil Cisneros (D-CA), and Steven Horsford (D-NV). All of these members of Congress are freshman who support cannabis reform, and talked about the importance of advocacy and the use of political action committees like the NCIA-PAC that they rely on.








After lunch, VIP Day attendees were shuttled back to Capitol Hill, where teams met personally with members of Congress, committees of jurisdiction, and congressional leadership.








Our first ever VIP Day was a huge success, and we thank the members of NCIA’s PAC Leadership Circle for their dedication to advocacy.

Lobby Days then officially started with a Welcome Reception attended by other advocates in Washington, D.C., NCIA members, and even congressional staff!








The following day, the work really began at our breakfast training. There, attendees met with the groups that they would be in for the day, were taught talking points on various bills and issues, and learned about how to use the app that housed all of their meeting information.








Washington, D.C. is full of great photo ops, so after our breakfast training, all of our attendees shuttled over to the Capitol… and snapped a few selfies, of course!








Meetings on Capitol Hill went from 12pm to 4pm. Each of NCIA’s 54 lobbying teams had at least four meetings over that course of time. Some groups were even lucky enough to sit down with members of Congress to talk about the issues that affect them and their businesses the most.








The day concluded with a fundraiser for the NCIA-PAC. This year’s event was wildly successful, as we had 15 members of the House of Representatives (Reps. Porter (D-CA), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Josh Harder (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Susie Lee (D-NV), Matt Gaetz (R-FL)) attend and speak, as well as Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).








The final day of Lobby Days began with a standing-room-only briefing that focused on NCIA’s new white paper titled “Increasing Equity in the Cannabis Industry” that our Policy Council worked on with the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA). Opening remarks were given by MCBA’s President, Shanita Penny along with the Principal of Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, Board Vice-Chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association, and Co-Chair of the Minority Cannabis Business Association Policy Committee, Khurshid Khoja. We were also joined by two members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).








Lobby Days wrapped up with small groups dropping off folders with informational materials to congressional offices that we were unable to schedule meetings with. While some may think these drop-ins are ineffective, they actually prove to be incredibly helpful long after our attendees go home.

The dates for NCIA’s 10th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days have already been chosen, so mark your calendars for our biggest year yet, happening May 19-21, 2020!

Be sure to check out the full photo album from this year’s Lobby Days!

Apply For A Scholarship to #CannaBizSummit Before May 15!

In an effort to create a more diverse and inclusive industry, we are thrilled to announce the partnership between NCIA and the Minority Cannabis Business Association has opened applications for its scholarship fund for qualified cannabis executives. Throughout the years, MCBA has consistently gone above and beyond to create equal access and economic empowerment for the communities most affected by the war on drugs.

NCIA is excited to have the opportunity to offer 60 applicants a complimentary pass to join us at the 6th Annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo this July 22-24 in San Jose, CA. If you are a minority in an executive cannabis position, please take a moment to fill out the application. We look forward to seeing you in San Jose!

The scholarship application period closes on May 15, so get your application in today!


Applications are due by Midnight PST, May 15, 2019. Awardees will be notified on June 1, 2019. Scholarship recipients will receive complimentary passes to Day 1 and Day 2 (July 23 & 24) of the Summit. Access to workshops and tours taking place on the Pre-Conference day (July 22) will need to be purchased separately. Scholarship recipients will also need to cover & arrange their own travel and lodging needed to attend the event.

VIDEO: The Benefits Of Legalization

In this third installment of NCIA’s animated educational video series, we explore the benefits of legalizing cannabis nationwide and beyond. Learn how ending federal prohibition can improve public safety and add economic opportunities to our communities, and how you can help.

Join NCIA today help us push cannabis reform past the tipping point!

VIDEO: The Benefits of Legalizing Cannabis

In this third installment of NCIA’s animated educational video series, we explore the benefits of legalizing cannabis nationwide and beyond. Learn how ending federal prohibition can improve public safety and add economic opportunities to our communities, and how you can help.

Watch our other two animated videos to learn more about the cannabis industry banking crisis and the burdens of Section 280E of the IRS Tax Code.

Committee Blog: “Cannabis Reform” Stops Short

by Lisa Jordan, VP of Marketing, Canna Advisors
NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee, Social Justice Subcommittee

As support for legalization continues to climb and speculation of “cannabis reform” at the federal level continues to swirl, one critical opportunity stands to be lost in the fray of voices and messages: Social Justice.

Cannabis reform, alone, stops short. The deeper work is addressing convictions, providing opportunities, and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered for decades by the “war on drugs.”

With focused attention, we can shape policies and legislation that expunge records, provide employment opportunities, and further offset the disproportionate effects on people and communities of color. Expungement of misdemeanor charges, alone, can mean the difference in getting a job or housing for residents of poor and minority communities across the country.

The objective of the Social Justice Subcommittee of NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee is to make sure this opportunity maintains visibility and action and that cannabis reform doesn’t stop short.


This level of policy change starts at the polls.

The November 6 elections are pivotal to voting in candidates who are not only in favor of cannabis reform, overall, but will also push forward with social justice initiatives.

3 Actions for Everyone

In these final days before the election, each person can take a few, mindful actions to make sure that social justice doesn’t get lost:

1. Register to Vote:

Some states allow voter registration until election day. Check your state’s deadlines here: https://www.headcount.org/deadlines-dates/

If you missed your state’s deadline for this year, go ahead and register now so you’ll be ready next time.

2. Know Your Candidates

Do your research to know where your state and federal level candidates stand on cannabis reform, overall, and on social justice issues.

NCIA put together these two great resources: Key Races to Watch and Congressional Scorecard. And, the Cannabis Voter Project also has a handy resource.

3. V-O-T-E, and Make Sure Your Friends and Family Vote

Voter turnout in the 2016 was at a 20-year low, with only 55% of eligible voters casting ballots. Cast your vote, and remind others to do the same.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a state with mailed ballots, get yours in early.

If you vote at your local polling location, add an appointment to your calendar – and don’t miss it!

Offer rides or carpool with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Check out free rides to the polls from Lyft.

It’s up to us to make sure this opportunity maintains visibility and action and that cannabis reform doesn’t stop short.


Lisa Jordan leads the brand development and marketing strategy for Canna Advisors and provides expert guidance in these areas to clients. With proven success in emerging industries, Lisa’s work has won numerous awards including a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, national awards for predictive analytics, and local ADDYs. Lisa has spoken at cannabis industry conferences and was selected to serve on the NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee and serves as Chair of the Social Justice Subcommittee.

Over time, Lisa hopes to make cannabis brands as mainstream and iconic as familiar, big brands. In her downtime, you will find Lisa on a hiking trail with her husband and four big mutts or finding any excuse to spend time at Red Rocks.


New Bill: The Clean Slate Act

In the 115th Congress, there are more cannabis reform bills than ever before — dozens, as a matter of fact! Let’s take a closer look at one of the newest reform bills that was just introduced last week.

Bill: The Clean Slate Act

Introduced by: Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE)

Original Cosponsors: Reps. Dwight Evans (D-PA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Lacy Clay (D-MO), David Scott (D-GA), Al Green (D-TX), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Eddie Bernice Jackson (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Yvette Clark (D-NY), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Andre Carson (D-IN), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Donald Payne Jr (D-NJ)

What It Does: This bill gives an order to the court to be carried out at the time of sentencing. At that time, the court will enter an order that each criminal record that either relates to Section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act or any Federal, non-violent offense involving marijuana shall be sealed automatically one year after the individual fulfills their sentence. That means that exactly one year after someone has “done their time” or fulfilled the expectations laid out in their sentencing, that their record is automatically expunged of the crime. According to the ACLU, 52% of all drug arrests are for marijuana. Not only that, but of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Combine that with the fact that despite roughly equal usage rates, African-Americans are 3.73 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana and you have a recipe for disaster. For all of those reasons, the Clean Slate Act is long overdue and should be enacted.

What To Expect: Now that the bill has been introduced, NCIA will continue to gather cosponsors for the legislation, as well as advocate for a hearing. With the House of Representatives currently away for August recess and midterm elections in November (register to vote here), timing will be of the essence.


The Push for Equity in the Cannabis Industry

by NCIA Editorial Staff

It’s no secret that the cannabis industry still has much work to do in terms of building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. But what barriers stand in the way, and how can we overcome them?

According to the ACLU, cannabis use is roughly equal among African-Americans and whites, yet African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of the substance. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for these communities are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use, but rather of law enforcement’s disparate focus on urban areas, lower income communities, and communities of color.

People of color are unequivocally and disproportionately affected by the prohibition of cannabis — so, what happens when a state decides to end prohibition?

Many states that have chosen to tax and regulate cannabis have included provisions in those laws that prohibit individuals with any prior convictions from working in a licensed cannabis company. Not only that, according to the Minority Cannabis Business Association, “heavy regulation, the high cost of entry, and information gaps hinder minorities from entering the industry as owners, employees, and patients & consumers”.

Not all states have taken that route, however. Massachusetts state law requires the Cannabis Control Commission to promote full participation in the industry by people disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. The goals of Massachusetts’ social equity program include reducing barriers to entry to the adult-use cannabis industry and providing technical services and mentoring to individuals facing barriers.

Action is also being taken at the local level. In January, the District Attorney’s office in San Francisco announced that they would be retroactively applying Proposition 64, which legalized the possession and recreational use of cannabis for adults ages 21 years or older, to misdemeanor and felony convictions dating back to 1975.

The important message of social equity, diversity, and inclusion in the cannabis industry has also reached the halls of Congress. A year ago, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced S. 1689: The Marijuana Justice Act, which was the first piece of federal legislation to ever order federal courts to expunge cannabis convictions and actually punish states that have racially disproportionate arrest rates or disproportionate incarceration rates for marijuana offenses.

Just last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, which creates a dedicated funding stream for women and minority-owned cannabis businesses that will be funded by revenue generated by the industry and directly linked to the industry’s growth. Not only that, the bill provides $100 million in grant funding to encourage state and local governments to develop, enhance or expand expungement or sealing programs for individuals convicted of marijuana possession.

In addition to these pieces of legislation, there have also been resolutions filed that address these disparities. In June, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades (RESPECT) Resolution, which encourages equity in the cannabis industry. The resolution urges state and local leaders to implement a series of practices when granting licenses for legal cannabis businesses to improve access for communities of color to the nascent industry, such as minimal application and license fees, no caps on the number of licenses, increased local control of the licensing process, and removing broad felony and cannabis convictions as automatic disqualifiers for participation. NCIA was proud to endorse this resolution and looks forward to advocating for its passage.

There’s still an incredibly long way to go before we have a cannabis industry that’s as diverse and rich as the cannabis community as a whole. Here at NCIA, we know the task of representing the legal and legitimate cannabis industry is more than just advocating for the biggest or richest companies — we’re also here to advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in this industry that we are all building together.


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