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.
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.
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.
NCIA Councils: Focusing on the Issues That Mean Most to You
by Laurence Gration, Director of Development
There is no question all NCIA members and staff work for the overall good of the industry. With an industry as complex as ours, it can be more effective to segment and specialize in order to achieve the goals of both the many and of the few.
Just as the Government Relations team at NCIA concentrate their efforts on lobbying and advocacy in D.C., with the goal of attaining federal policy change for the industry, several member-driven councils have been formed to engage the expertise and passion of those particular individuals and organizations for the overall good of NCIA and the industry.
These NCIA Councils work to gain or retain benefits for members, or to make general changes for the public good. Councils work through advocacy, public campaigns, and even lobbying to make changes in our industry. There are a wide variety of interest groups representing a variety of constituencies.
As the name suggests, these are groups that focus their energy on a single defining issue. The members of the Council are often quite devoted to the issue, and motivated by personal experiences or participation in ongoing social movements. There are a growing number of single-issue interest groups in NCIA.
The first NCIA-Council formed was the Minority Business Council (NCIA-MBC), which has the interest at heart of driving inclusion. Moreover, we resolve to maintain a business-based community that is respectful of all persons despite differences in age, citizenship, disability, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, geographic origin, language, marital status, nationality, philosophical beliefs, race, religion, sexual orientation, military service, socioeconomic status, or previous incarceration (for unjust marijuana offenses).
The Infused Products Council (NCIA-IPC) is focusing in on the edible and topical area of the industry, looking at what can be learned from the existing businesses and regulations, to be shared across the country for the benefit of the consumer and the manufacturer. There is no limitation on the issues here, with the thought that as we progress and delve deeper into the needs of this sector, it may split into differing groups with even more specialized interests. Regulation is the initial key focus, but that will continue to be pushed within the Council to ensure the infused product sector is helping shape its destiny, rather than being driven by irregular regulations from jurisdiction to jurisdiction..
Equally irregular in the industry is the human resources aspect. Whether we talk training, education, recruitment, or pay and benefits, the field is wide open and the rules are, too. The Human Resource Council (NCIA-HRC) has set up shop with the interests of both employees and employers in mind.
Proposed goals of this council are as follows:
Establish best practices for HR, Talent Management, and Learning & Development in the cannabis industry
Develop a job board for NCIA members
Utilize SHRM and other HR/recruiting organizations to help define HR/recruiting expertise
Share best practices among members of the HR Council
Providing educational materials to help NCIA member businesses better understand how to be compliant with federal and state employment laws
Provide guidelines to NCIA members around recruiting and employment practices
We have also been in discussion with members that are interested in councils on cultivation, marketing and advertising, and retail.
Let us know of your interests, and we will make it happen.
For more information, please reach out to NCIA’s Director of Development, Laurence Gration.
Help NCIA’s Inclusion Initiative Expand in 2016
Congratulations and thank you for a great 2015.
NCIA’s Inclusion Initiative, headed up by our Minority Business Council (NCIA-MBC), had a good start this year, and we were able to make a difference for dozens of people in the cannabis industry or working to enter the industry. Considering the Council had its first formal meeting only seven months ago, we have achieved a great deal in raising awareness and beginning to take on the mandate of creating a more inclusive industry.
We also have a good start to 2016. We’ve added an Inclusion Initiative contribution option to the registration forms for the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit and have already begun building up the scholarship fund.
But we can never rest on our laurels, and the expectations of the industry are great. There is talk about what else we can do to help promote inclusion in this industry, and now is the time to start the discussion.
The next meeting of the NCIA-MBC will be a planning meeting at 2pm MT on Tuesday, January 19th. To join the meeting, simply call in to the conference call line at (303) 416-5167. (No PIN is necessary.)
With this meeting, we’ll seek to get a little more formal in our efforts. The goal is to establish a representative committee and meeting structure to ensure we are at the forward edge of our work and that what needs to be done is getting done.
In an effort to continue the development of this initiative and grow the opportunities for those who face barriers within the industry, we are putting forward the notion of creating a more formal structure – guiding the development of the NCIA Inclusion Initiative by expanding the Minority Business Council and establishing a less formal advisory committee as well.
Therefore, we seek your input into two areas:
Please review the proposed rules for serving on the NCIA Minority Business Council. Then let us know if you would like to serve on the Council under these rules or would like to stay or become involved with the Inclusion Initiative through the less formal advisory committee.
Proposed Requirements for NCIA Minority Business Council (MBC) Members
Council members must be employees of NCIA member-businesses
Council chair must be a member of the NCIA Board of Directors and thus report to and from MBC
Chair and Vice chair are elected by the Council members
Secretary is appointed from NCIA staff
Only one person from any given member-business can serve on the Council (but there is no limit to how many people from a business can serve on the advisory committee)
Council members must be able to attend at least 3 in-person meetings and 3 telephone meetings during a calendar year
Council members must commit to a minimum financial contribution to MBC activities (examples: scholarship pledges, in-kind donations, etc.), exact amount to be determined by the Council at an affordable level to all
We believe the optimal number of people on the Council would be about 12, so we are looking for 12 strong volunteers who have a point-of-view and are eager to contribute on these critical issues.
If you own or are employed at an NCIA member-business, please feel free to nominate yourself for the Council. We also welcome your recommendations for others for us to follow through on and ensure we have the best recruits we can get.
Even if you are not part of an NCIA member-business, we invite you to join the advisory committee for NCIA’s Inclusion Initiative. On this advisory committee, you will be invited to every meeting and kept fully informed of action and activities, as well as have direct input into the Council and the Inclusion Initiative.
Please let us know of your involvement and interest before January 11th, so we can schedule a meeting and put structure in place for fuller development.
And as we head into 2016, we invite you to suggest and share resources for the Inclusion Initiative page on NCIA’s website, so that we can build it into a helpful presence for those looking for industry support and knowledge.
Thank you for your interest in the Minority Business Council and NCIA’s Inclusion Initiative. We look forward to expanding and building upon the success of 2015!
NCIA’s Minority Business Council: Robert Van Roo, Palm Springs Safe Access Joshua Littlejohn, Accannadations LLC Dr. Lakisha Jenkins, Kiona T. Jenkins Foundation for Natural Health Luke Ramirez, Walking Raven LLC