Member Spotlight: Cannabis Consumers Coalition

In the cannabis industry, the life cycle of growers, retailers, extractors, and infused product manufacturers would not exist were it not for the consumers. As we move toward self-regulating our industry from the inside out, it’s important to consider all views and perspectives in those decision-making processes. This month, we check in with Larisa Bolivar of Cannabis Consumers Coalition to talk about the work she’s doing to protect the interests and concerns of cannabis consumers. cannabisconsumerscoalition

Cannabis Industry Sector:

NCIA Member Since:
April 2016

Tell me a bit about you and why you founded Cannabis Consumers Coalition?

I have been in the cannabis industry/movement since 2001 when I moved to Colorado as a medical cannabis refugee, and I have been a cannabis consumer for 25 years. I helped to establish safe access for Colorado patients through my organization called Caregivers for Safe Access, which became the Colorado Compassion Club and the first dispensary in Colorado prior to 2009. After several years on hiatus from the front lines of the movement, and spending time consulting on policy, business and communications in the emerging industry, I saw a need for more consumer-focused advocacy and that what was missing was a consumer protection agency. Much of the conversation had been focused on the needs of the industry, and that continues to play out today. It is my mission to change that. I believe that consumers are who drive the economy.

I believe my background is perfect for the task of playing watchdog for the industry. I have worked in startup and corporate environments in multiple emerging markets, including software, dot-coms, clean tech, and cannabis. My work in clean tech and software really prepared me for working in a tightly regulated environment. The clean tech company that I worked at, GridPoint, a billion-dollar-valuated startup with successful launch and exit is a smart grid company focused on energy management in the utility space, one of the most regulated industries in our country. When working in software, I worked as a technical recruiter staffing sensitive, high-level technical contracts mostly in defense, which is also highly regulated. I understand highly regulated environments really well, and it is easy to forget the consumer when trying to jump through so many regulatory hoops. I believe that with a strong consumer voice, we will eventually have fewer regulations.   

Larisa Bolivar, Executive Director of Cannabis Consumers Coalition.
Larisa Bolivar, Executive Director of Cannabis Consumers Coalition.

How does CCC provide unique value to the cannabis industry and movement?

The mission of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition is to provide cannabis consumers with a voice in the growing cannabis industry, and to ensure consumer rights and ethical behavior on behalf of cannabis-related businesses. The biggest value we provide is giving consumers a powerful voice and helping them to realize the purchasing power they have with their dollar in helping to hold the industry accountable to operating in an ethical, consumer-centric model. We provide consumers with a powerful voice, and have been very effective in changing laws to protect consumers. This occurred recently when we obtained and released the names of pesticide violators in Colorado. We quickly made a lot of enemies, and good friends, in the industry. Some business owners have called us anti-industry, which is quite the contrary. I risked my life trailblazing medical marijuana and laying the foundation for the launch of a billion-dollar industry in Colorado. This was pre-regulation, prior to when moneyed interests got into the game and created the framework for regulations. The industry began with blazing the path to create that possibility, breaking ground for the foundation to be laid. As such, I feel personally accountable for it, along with many of my peers and supporters who were also trailblazers and pioneers.

Consumers deserve the right to know that the cannabis they are purchasing is indeed the quality that is being marketed. They also need a strong voice to fight for their rights, and that is what I myself provide, especially with my history of activism, along with the support of our legal team at Fox Rothschild LLP. An Am Law 100 law firm, they have nearly 750 attorneys spanning multiple practice areas and across multiple industries, and have a reputation for working with nonprofit organizations and community groups.

Another value we provide is in helping businesses strive to provide the best consumer experience and high quality products. Quality end products in the cannabis industry are multi-faceted, starting with how a plant is grown, how it’s positioned in the market, to the consumer experience at retail outlets. All of it is so interrelated.

Here in Colorado, the issue of public consumption is hot and there are a couple of initiatives in the works this year to address that need. Can you tell me more about that and how you’re involved in this effort?

Indeed this is probably the hottest issue Colorado. Voters voted for the right to use cannabis legally, yet there are no places to consume. This also poses issues for cannabis consumers visiting the state. There are bed and breakfasts and some hotels that allow for consumption, but there are no places to consume and socialize. There are two initiatives in consideration.

There is the Responsible Use initiative put forth by Denver NORML, which is a private club designated license that requires people to become members, bring their own cannabis and allows for permitted events. The other initiative, The Neighborhood Approved Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program Initiative, will give permission to businesses, including bars, to allow cannabis consumption. Either one will be good for consumers. One is more exclusive, and by requiring membership it keeps things manageable and accountable by limiting the amount of people who can join, it does alienate neighborhood groups and businesses. My concern with the initiative permitting businesses to allow consumption, including bars, is that tourists new to cannabis consumption and consuming alcohol, can easily over-consume the two if they are not “seasoned” cannabis consumers.

Why did you join NCIA?

We joined NCIA after careful research into industry trade groups and selected the one that was the most diverse, influential, and had an ethical and inclusive industry. It is our desire to see a successful multi-billion dollar industry built on a foundation of integrity and inclusiveness, and NCIA offers that. While we may not align with the philosophies of all members, the organization pushes integrity in all that is does, and what I like the most is that it has organized councils that are really committed to creating an exemplary foundation for the entire industry, not just its members. You can see this in their Minority Business Council, where the discussions are always industry and community focused. I also like the networking available, especially meeting other passionate cannabis business owners across the country and having dynamic and energizing conversations.  

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