NCIA/CCIA Conference Report: Day One

Read Day 2 Report

The NCIA/CCIA conference in Anaheim got off to a rousing start with NCIA founder Aaron Smith reminding the crowd that California was still the biggest potential market for the cannabis industry, even now that Canada has become the second country to legalize it. Smith announced that the latest Gallup poll shows 66% of Americans are in favor of legalization, fully 2/3 and the highest (ahem) number yet. Speaking of the coming midterm elections, Smith opined, “No matter the result, we’re going to see a Green Wave,” listing numerous states that are looking to legalize on the November ballot.

Lindsay Robinson, CCIA’s president, said the goal of the cannabis industry in California is now to be “regulated and taxed, but not out of existence.” She said CCIA particularly wants the industry to be successful for people who have been shut out and impacted by the war on drugs. She pointed to bills passing in 2018 erasing boundaries between Adult Use and Medical markets, opening up venues where cannabis events can be held, allowing for provisional licensing, removing penalties for paying taxes in cash, and establishing a statewide equity program as successes for CCIA and the industry. She pointed to white papers produced by various committees of CCIA (retail, agriculture, manufacturing, insurance, diversity, etc.) as instrumental in pushing better policies and laws.

Work ahead remains to lower taxes, protect compassionate care programs, as well as fixing testing, hemp, and banking, Robinson told the crowd. Noting that only 1/3 of local jurisdictions are allowing cannabis businesses, she also named passing local ordinances as a priority.

Democratic Congressman Lou Correa from Anaheim and Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher joined Smith onstage for a chat about federal law and other matters. (Smith joked that he wore a purple tie so as not to show partisanship.) Asked if he could envision a path forward should the Republicans retain control of the House, Rohrabacher replied that there would then be a new leader from California (Kevin McCarthy), although he said he had not been able to pin the Bakersfield Republican down on the issue. He said, “Love him or hate him, Trump is trying to keep his promises (made during the campaign) to support medical marijuana," adding that he has been “assured by his entourage” that he intends to carry them out.

Correa spoke of his bill to bring about research on cannabis at the VA, which passed committee with support of the Republican committee chair from Kentucky, but was not brought to a vote as part of the stonewall by current Republican leadership. Rohrabacher said he expected to get to a floor vote his Respect State Marijuana Laws bill, which cuts across all federal agencies, not just DEA.

The event was held three days after the BCC issued its “kinda final modified proposed regulations,” noted Cat Packer, director of the LA Dept. of Cannabis Regulation, on a Diversion, Inclusion and Equity panel that featured state Sen. Steve Bradford, author of the successful bill that passed this year earmarking $10 million for equity programs statewide. Packer pointed out that there will continue to be regulatory changes and that we must look to legislators to get exactly what we want, predicting there will be another 70 bills in Sacramento again next year.

Issues with local equity programs included predatory practices by those using an equity applicant as a front. Packer pointed out that license applications are filled out under penalty of perjury, and pledged that her department would do due diligence to sift through the layers to the true owners. She called for a statewide social equity analysis, as is being done at local levels.

Packer used the example of residency requirements being stripped from Prop. 64 as something that will negatively impact equity applicants to demonstrate the complexity of the situation. On the same panel, Oakland attorney James Anthony lamented last-minute changes in the regulations that make branding more difficult, noting that there will be "a lot of steak around and producers will have to sell the sizzle" (e.g. a Compton brand). A panel on Craft Cannabis also touched on the necessity of branding with Amanda Reiman of FlowKana using the wine industry as an example. “Do people walk into tasting rooms and ask, ‘Do you have any wine we can try?’” she asked. “That’s where the cannabis industry is right now." She enjoined participants to look to examples like dolphin-friendly and fair-trade products to start educating consumers about chosing products that align with their values.

CCIA now represents 500 businesses, 650 brands, and 10K employees. As well as entrepreneurs hoping to start cannabis businesses throughout California, attendees stopping at the Cal NORML table were mostly from ancillary businesses, like insurance companies, benefits program managers, and venture capital companies/incubators. One man is re-inventing his 40-year-old family business in Oakland making handling systems, gearing them toward cannabis businesses.

The conference continues tomorrow with a keynote from BCC chief Lori Ajax, Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo and musician/cannabis entrepreneur Melissa Etheridge.