4,500 participants at the fourth annual NCIA mega-conference woke up in Oakland — a newly rechristened city of champions following the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Finals victory — and embarked on a day filled with industry leaders, celebration of the past year’s success and excitement for the future.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first full day of panels and workshops at NCIA was opened by Executive Director, Aaron Smith, who explained the purpose of the business organization; to advance business interests — the NCIA is made up of 1,300 member businesses in 13 different states — but also to promote cannabis decriminalization as a social justice and freedom movement.
“Believe it or not cannabis is still illegal under federal law,” he said, adding that the roughly $7 billion industry is uprooting “criminal drug cartels here at home and south of the border.”
Smith went on to say that Prop 64 makes California the largest legal cannabis market in the world, citing the one in five people who now live in a state with a full legal cannabis market.
He pointed to the hard lessons of the 2012 federal raid on Oaksterdam University and urged attendees to be good neighbors and actively participate in their community.
“It’s absolutely imperative that you keep out in the open,” he said.
The NCIA is working to remove or reform several business barriers currently confronting the cannabis industry, including Section 280E of the federal tax code — which bars cannabis business from deducting most basic business expenses, massively increasing their tax burden — and ending the banking crisis. But its main purpose is to tax and regulate marijuana across the country in a manner similar to alcohol.
Smith said he thinks cannabis could be regulated on the federal level within four to five years and encouraged businesses to push for open markets, citing the ways a market-driven approach has allowed the huge cannabis industry in California to flourish.
“Work for open access for all entrepreneurs who are responsible in this industry,” he said.
Next was the day’s keynote speaker, Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico. Fox described the ravages of America’s War on Drugs in Mexico, citing that social destruction as the main reason he is pro-legalization and pro-individual responsibility.
He pointed to the number of countries that have embraced marijuana internationally, noting that last year Mexico itself passed a medical marijuana program.
“This will go on,” he said. “It will scale to the future if we’re very responsible with our decisions.”
Calling the Trump Administration an “extreme of an extreme,” Fox called for cannabis to be distributed across borders without taxes. Later, during a Q & A session, he said he hopes the U.S. eventually imports cannabis from Mexico, just as it now imports other agricultural goods like tomatoes and avocados.
“This product cannabis has to be integrated to NAFTA,” he said. “Now the market is opening and it’s waiting for us… This nation with asphyxiate itself behind four walls.”
Open markets, he said, facilitate the dream of many cannabis industry entrepreneurs who start small with global aspirations.
“Let’s forget about [Trump] and let’s build the world together,” Fox said. “I’m not asking you to get rid of him, but you can do it.”
Following Fox’s address, participants chose one of five tracks specialized to particular areas of the industry. The tracks covered the fine print of running a cannabis business, cultivation, policy and reform as well as cutting edge trends, including new infused products, quality control and working with Native Americans on their tribal lands.
Highlights of the day included the California licensing panel, featuring respected industry attorney Khurshid Khoja, California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Chief, Lori Ajax, the California Cannabis Industry Association’s new Executive Director, Lindsay Robinson, and licensing shark, Avis Bulbulyan, who’s cleaned house for his clients in states like Massachusetts, Nevada and Illinois — getting permits for various cultivation spaces and dispensaries, many managed by his firm Bulbulyan Consulting Group.
Much like the evening prior, Tuesday night’s activities were on point, featuring a collection of rooftop parties in downtown Oakland.
Following a hotel happy hour, many of the VIPs in attendance headed over to the Herban Mixer: People of Color in Cannabis Networking Event. The rooftop soiree celebrated a major push for diversity in the cannabis industry and the struggle for inclusion in the industry of those most disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
The high-class event was hosted by the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the California Cannabis Industry Association, Denver Relief Consulting, Hood Incubator, the Law Offices of James Anthony, and Supernova Women.
The spacious rooftop deck also played host to the first round of testing in Cannabis Now’s NCIA Mini Cup. This past Friday we decided to call a Mini Cup in the same style of Santa Cruz’s world Mavericks surf contest — we gave folks 72 hours to bring their best pot to Oakland. Three cup winning dispensaries answered the call; Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, elite San Francisco bay area delivery service C.R.A.F.T. and Southern California’s 3C Farms.
In round one, Cannabis Now’s NCIA Mini Cup judges single handedly attempted to send smoke signals to LA.We’ll reveal the results of our cup in our coverage of the final day of NCIA.
Following Herban Mixer, the judges made their way over to the Cannabis Marketing Association’s reception, which was widely attended by some of the best minds in cannabis and boasted the most powerful sound system of the week, rocking a rooftop rotation that lasted ’til midnight.
CMA’s California Co-Chair, Victor Pinho, said the success of the night was a big win for responsible cannabis marketing.
“[It] proved the industry was hungry for marketing best practices,” he said.
Keep an eye out for our final day of coverage from NCIA tomorrow.
TELL US, are you in Oakland for the NCIA expo?