Female leaders from the cannabis industry gathered in Oakland last month to hear Lori Ajax speak about the upcoming regulatory changes for California. Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, discussed the shifting regulatory landscape in California, what to expect from the ongoing process and where to go for updates and information. The event, called W Empower, was held at the Gateway Incubator, and hosted by HelloMD, Sava and Garden Society. During the event Ajax was joined by a panel of experts, Julie Mercer-Ingram from Beck Law, Tawnie Logan of Sonoma County Growers Alliance and Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML.
Ajax’s overall message was hopeful that regulators could come together with the cannabis community to create a functional regulatory system. However, she also acknowledged the unique complexities of regulating cannabis.
“In the first few weeks I realized that this was unlike any product I had ever seen,” Ajax said. “It means so many things to so many different people.”
Throughout the meeting, Ajax focused on how crucial it is for members of the cannabis community to make their voices heard in the regulatory process, encouraging the women in the room to submit their comments to the bureau for review.
“You’re going to look at something and go ‘God that’s stupid! Why would somebody do that?’” Ajax said. “You’re not going to hurt our feelings. We need you to tell us why that’s not going to work and we need you to tell us how to do it differently… The last thing we should be doing as a state right now is making regulations that are so onerous no one can comply.”
Ajax opened the night by admitting her nervousness to speak in front of the group.
“Speaking in front of women is a lot harder than anything,” she said laughing. “It’s an intimidating group here, because you’ll call me out on anything I say.”
While many of the women in attendance had challenging questions and deep concerns about the drafted regulations, Ajax did not need to worry as the tone throughout the night was one of collaboration rather than debate.
Questions from the audience included worries about the uncertain future of small businesses such as delivery services, constantly moving regulatory targets and taxes and testing requirements raising the prices for patients. Others discussed the big leap many cannabis businesses will have to take from being completely off the books to being highly-regulated and transparent.
Sara Payan, director of education at the Apothecarium and vice-chair of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, commented that she was most concerned about new restrictions against gifting cannabis.
“It is a huge financial risk for critically ill patients on fixed income to actually try new medicine.” Payan said. “It’s not covered by insurance. So if we should to have the opportunity to let them try something for free and then have them come back and get it. Pharmaceutical reps get to do this all the time.”
Payan also explained that this restriction would prevent the many pre-existing programs where vendors donate medicine to critically ill patients who can’t afford it.
Ajax listened carefully to the questions and comments, often admitting that the current regulations need work and encouraging questioners to become more involved and follow up by sending in feedback and suggestions. Ajax directed everyone to the state’s new cannabis portal cannabis.ca.gov, and shared a moment of enthusiasm over having a .gov link with cannabis in the name.
“They even allow us to have a cannabis plant on our website,” she said.
Organizers say this was the first of what they hope to be a regular networking event for female leaders in the cannabis industry.
“Thirty-six percent of CEO/founder spaces in cannabis are filled by women and some estimates say that 60 percent of executive positions are held by women, which is astounding really,” said Pamela Hadfield, co-founder of HelloMD. “I started to think that there was an opportunity to create an invite-only event specifically catering to women who are currently active within the industry.”
The event hosts hope uniting women involved with the cannabis industry will lead to more business partnerships.
“In forming W Empowered, we were inspired by the collaboration and partnership between businesswomen in the cannabis community,” said Garden Society CEO Erin Gore. “Working together makes us much stronger in promoting the cannabis cause for our patients than working individually.”
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