Cast against a backdrop of the Hollywood sign, cannabis activists and entrepreneurs gathered in Los Angeles this weekend to discuss the merging of a political movement and a growing industry.
“Industries do not lead political movements,” said Joe Hunter while noting industries are cowardice in this regard because they fear losing money. “Guys like me need to get into the industry to give it credibility.”
Hunter, a principal at JH Strategies and advisor to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, was included as one of the panelists on the legalization panel at the State of Marijuana event hosted by Cureativ. The gathering also included presentations and panels on investing in the cannabis industry, cannabis farming regulations, a medical panel devoted to research and patient care, education, digital media and the future of marijuana business.
“I got into marijuana because I believe marijuana should be legal,” said Justin Hartfield, CEO of Weedmaps, a company that states it generates $25M a year, with 80,000 unique visitors on its site per day.
While Hartfield projects the cannabis industry has incredible economic potential – accentuating promising economic opportunities such as CBD, analytical lab testing, vaporizing cafes and marijuana direct sales through the Internet – he said the bottom line is as long as marijuana is still defined as a Schedule I substance with no medicinal value, “we’re never going to get there.”
The legalization panel highlighted the roles of social justice and activism in the cannabis movement necessary for policy reform on a national level. Lynne Lyman, California State director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), outlined three roles for the cannabis industry in the 2016 election: money, role modeling and expertise. Lyman also stressed access for minorities and women in the medical marijuana industry.
“There’s lots of ways to grandfather people in,” she said noting a push for denial of marijuana dispensary licenses based on prior marijuana felonies in the medical marijuana regulation act currently moving through the California state legislature. “There’s lots of ways to reduce access.”
For Cody Bass, executive director at Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, it is vital to focus on how to bring people in the cannabis community out of the shadows and into society. Bass noted that with reform in California, it is incredibly important to pay attention to the “language that gets passed,” as cannabis could be a cottage or corporate industry.
As an executive board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Diane Goldstein often speaks about cannabis policy reform in front of conservative groups.
“We have to convince them as well,” she said. “As an industry we need to be more responsible.”
For Golstein cannabis is not about the profits that can be gained through taxation.
“It’s about the social justice cost that we are reclaiming,” she said.
Sarah Lovering, development officer at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), cautioned voters and policymakers against thinking of an ideal world when it comes to cannabis reform. Instead, she said, people should think in terms of what they want followed by what others will vote for.
“Overtime we can make improvements, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.
During a featured afternoon panel Kristin Nevedal, of the Emerald Growers Association stressed that the farmers are the foundation of the medical cannabis industry, which cannot move forward without them.
“Let’s regulate cannabis as an agricultural crop produced for human consumption,” she said.
In addition, the day-long event featured dialog surrounding the rise of cannabis trade associations, such as the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).
“This is first and foremost a movement for me,” said NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith.
Smith believes trade associations like the NCIA bridge the divide between social justice and economic issues, by focusing on topics such as jobs, healthcare and the American economy.
The reform of cannabis laws in California was also a significant talking point at the conference.
“The narrative needs to be focused on Colorado,” said Mass Roots Founder and CEO Issac Dietrich. “The narrative needs to be on what’s working not the Wild, Wild West.”
“Standards are here and they’re coming,” Jahan Marcu, director of research and development at Green Standard Diagnostics Inc, said.
For Oaksterdam’s Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones as long as Californians continue to deal with policy as opposed to law, cannabis in the Golden State will never blossom into an industry.
“We are still a movement, we are not yet an industry,” she said.
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