With comprehensive medical marijuana regulations kicking in and full-scale legalization headed for a vote, cannabis entrepreneurs and policymakers convened in Sacramento on Tuesday to discuss their industry’s future.
Put on by the California Cannabis Industry Association, the conference testified to the pot industry’s increasing sophistication. Suit jackets, ties and lapel pins outnumbered hemp shirts. The audience included not just dispensary owners but also representatives of older businesses that have expanded into pot, like insurance firms (yes, you can file a claim on a plant), weed-focused tech companies and investors.
We have to lean on the industry, we have to lean on everybody to help get this done.
Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation
New medical marijuana laws regulating cultivation, transportation, labeling, testing and sales birthed a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation overseen by California’s first pot czar. Lori Ajax received a standing ovation, but she noted her agency scarcely exists at this point. She joked about doubling her staff by adding one employee and noted the two of them are for now the only ones “answering your phone calls and emails.”
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“We’re going to be reaching out to you a lot,” Ajax said. “We have to lean on the industry, we have to lean on everybody to help get this done.”
While many industry players herald the incoming medical laws as a long-sought chance at legitimacy, some have objections to how it will work. Harborside Health Center executive director Steve DeAngelo warned a multi-tier licensing system requiring separate distributors “threatens to strangle California’s medical cannabis industry in the cradle before we even have a chance to grow up.”
Much of the discussion centered on the likelihood that California voters will authorize recreational use in November. Speakers argued groups around the nation are watching California as a gauge for how other state legalization efforts will fare.
“We have never been under so much pressure,” Lindsay Robinson of the Marijuana Policy Project said. “California, if it doesn’t pass, could be a major setback to the entire country.”
But because California would not be the first state to legalize weed, it can look to earlier adopters for what to avoid. Richard Miadich, an attorney who is counseling the legalization campaign, pointed to cautionary tales of Colorado not explicitly stating where adults can smoke (California would allow consumption at retail sites) and to Washington giving out too few cultivation licenses (California regulators would set the number of licenses).
“We can’t predict what this market is going to look like in the future,” Miadich said.
Speakers warned against assuming passage is inevitable, saying supporters will need to show up to vote and contribute more money. They said an opposition campaign is just now thrumming to life.
“It definitely can’t be underestimated,” said Weedmaps president Chris Beals, whose business has contributed $750,000 to the legalization campaign so far.
Political prognostications occupied much of the schedule, but it was still a business and networking event. A panel on business planning moderated by National Federation of Independent Business California lobbyist Ken DeVore, who said his organization now represents dispensaries, emphasized paying taxes and complying with regulations. A California Chamber of Commerce lobbyist sat in the audience.
“The perception of the growers, the dispensary owners, the different people that work in the industry – it’s been changed dramatically to professional businesses,” DeVore said.