As Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly push forward with their mission to revive the war on drugs and go after states that have existing legal cannabis programs, events like the recent 4th Annual Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBE) in New York City take on even more importance. Anne Schultz, who attended the event, explains.
With an estimated worth of US$7 billion today, the cannabis industry is projected to grow to approximately US$50 billion within the next decade. As the industry continues to rapidly grow, so do the legal concerns and how they will impact its future in the U.S.
With the threat of legal pressure still a reality, events like the CWCBE provide a forum for attendees to network and share with individuals from sectors and industries involved with cannabis industry. The event, which took place June 14-16 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, hosted more than 70 sessions with 100 expert speakers who addressed and discussed the successes and challenges of the industry in the present and future.
“In the past, advocates for cannabis were primarily focused on making an industry out of the movement. Now we are looking to add sophistication to these programs, with a strong emphasis on diversity, banking, taxation, as well as accessibility for medical and scientific research,” says CWCBE managing director Scott Giannotti.
Delving further into these and other political issues were the powerhouse lineup of keynote speakers, which included former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, Republican political strategist Roger Stone, New York State Senator Diane Savino, and civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton. In his speech, Sharpton made it clear that while progress has been made over the years, there is a long journey ahead in terms of the state and federal political uncertainty.
“If you are interested in creating jobs, then you should be supporting the legal cannabis industry across the country.”
Stone, a long-time political strategist for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and current President Donald Trump, has been active in the movement for almost 30 years and announced his bipartisan collaboration with John Morgan, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Ventura, and Tyler Nixon, great-nephew of Richard Nixon, among others, to focus on urging President Trump to exercise good public policy and keep his pledge in supporting and honoring the 29 states’ rights that have legalized cannabis in some form. Another focus is to remove cannabis from its inclusion as a Schedule 1 drug so doctors can prescribe it to those who need it.
“I am very optimistic because the facts are on our side,” said Stone. “If you are interested in making America great again, interested in a robust and vibrant economy, interested in greater revenues to help solve public policy problems, if you are interested in creating jobs, then you should be supporting the legal cannabis industry across the country.” Currently there are 30 states that allow doctor-authorized use of medical cannabis and additional 16 states that include statutory protections for CBD use.
Although some view the recent extension of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (formerly Rohrabacher-Farr) as a victory, New York State Senator Diane Savino issued a warning to not be lulled into a false sense of security. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which originally passed in 2014 by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, effectively prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from utilizing federal funds for medical marijuana prosecution. It does not protect recreational use of marijuana and still must be reauthorized annually.
According to Savino, Sessions’ recent actions “should send a chill down the spine of every legislator in the Congress and state legislator in this country.” She also addressed a wall that the industry continues to hit when it comes to scientific and medical research, where federal officials state there is no research to substantiate the benefit of medical marijuana. “Canada, Ireland, Israel . . . [it’s] as if those places don’t exist to them. If it wasn’t done here in the United States, if it wasn’t approved by the FDA, it’s as if the research was never done. It’s the most amazing disconnect I’ve ever seen,” she said.
The state of New York currently has only five license holders and 20 dispensaries. Change, let alone huge public policy changes, will occur slowly. The trend seems to be that it takes states about 10 years to legalize recreational use after gaining their medical status. Savino said she is now focusing her attention on stabilizing and growing the New York program and expanding the patient base through educational events like the CWCBE.
More than 66 per cent of the U.S. population now live in a state that has legalized cannabis in some form. Removing programs already in place could be economically detrimental to states like Colorado and California who have budgeted funds in an industry that is legal and regulated. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, for last fiscal year 2015-2016, the first $40M of retail marijuana excise tax revenue was distributed to the Colorado Department of Education’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program and $2.5M of excise tax collections were transferred to the Public School Fund. In 2016, the state took in $1.3 billion from in-state cannabis sales. Currently, Colorado’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation at 2.3 percent.
While businesses continue to operate with the uncertainty of provisional protection from the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and the Cole Memorandum—which instructs the Department of Justice make it a low priority to enforce marijuana laws if they’re in compliance with state law—creating and enforcing national standards within the cannabis industry could help reduce the need to create additional regulations, says Joshua Laterman, CEO of the National Association of Cannabis Businesses.
“The biggest issue is that there is so much happening. We are reaching out and working with local allies and industries and need to work together to create new opportunities to find out what the needs are,” says Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s largest marijuana policy reform organization.
“It’s really anyone’s game at this point. The industry continues to change and there is such an influx of new people coming in. Some people come up to our booth asking what our product does, having never seen or heard of a trimmer, to those who have done their homework and are asking in-depth technical questions. Regardless of what level they are at, from a home grower to licensed, commercial facility, we are here to do what we can to help them with processing their product more efficiently,” says Gary Fast of Triminator, one of the more than 100 exhibitors on the floor at the expo.
Although there were exhibitors present that focused on the cultivation and processing side such as Forever Flowering Greenhouse, Apeks Supercritical, SolisTek, and Advanced Nutrients, the expo had a heavily political focus and featured several consulting groups, law firms, advocacy groups, investment firms, and professional organizations. It is a strong indication that cannabis businesses can no longer casually operate like they have in the past and individuals wanting to come into the industry or wanting to stay in it need to understand how regulations and legislation will affect their endeavors.
The takeaway from the CWCBE is that now is the time to build a foundation that can offer stability and sustainability for this rapidly growing industry, and it can be accomplished through incorporation of self-regulatory practices and involvement with advocacy groups and legislators. The next CWCBE Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo will take place in Los Angeles, September 13-15 and in Boston October 4-6. Visit cwcbexpo.com for more information.
Share this Post