Tag Archives: cannabis business summit

NCIA Federal Policy Update: Q&A with Aaron Smith

By Aaron G. Biros
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The Justice Department rescinding the Cole Memo, the Omnibus bill including Leahy Amendment protections, a host of potential bills for federal cannabis policy change: a lot has been happening in Washington D.C. recently with respect to cannabis business. With the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit in San Jose fast approaching, as well as the 8th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days, we thought it would be a good time to hear what NCIA has been up to recently.

We sat down with Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of NCIA, to learn what the organization is working on right now and how we might be able to make some real federal policy changes for cannabis.

Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA

CannabisIndustryJournal: With the Department of Justice rescinding the Cole Memo, working as a group to tackle federal policy reform is now more important than ever. Can you give us a 30,000-foot view of what NCIA is doing right now to help us work together as a group and affect policy change?

Aaron Smith: So our team in D.C. consists of three full-time staff members as well as lobbying consultants, who have been really focused on the appropriations process, which is the way we’ve been able to affect change in such a dysfunctional congress by affecting the budget and restricting law enforcement activities. The medical marijuana protections, formerly known as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, [and now known as the Leahy Amendment] prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute state-legal medical marijuana businesses and patients. Going into the fiscal year, thankfully after a lot of hard work, we were able to include protections for medical marijuana, which just happened last week. Now we are really focused on the next year’s fiscal budget, working to hopefully expand those protections to cover all state-legal marijuana activity so the Department of Justice cannot go after all state-legal cannabis businesses, including those businesses in the recreational cannabis industry, which is certainly one of our priorities right now. As Congress starts to transition into fiscal year 2019 appropriations, the D.C. team is working with Capitol Hill staff and other cannabis groups in D.C. to ensure an organized, uniformed strategy through the appropriations process.

CIJ: What are some other priorities for NCIA in the House and Senate right now? What is NCIA focusing its resources on?

Smith: Another big issue for us is the 280E section of tax code, which prevents legal cannabis businesses from deducting normal business expenses. A lot of these businesses face upwards of a 70 percent effective tax rate. Working with our champions in Congress, we are working on reforms to 280E so we can make normal deductions and be treated fairly, just like any other legal business. The Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017 addresses this issue and has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate right now, and we are working to build more support for that. This bill currently has 43 cosponsors in the House.

The other big issue for us right now is banking reform, which is a very high priority for NCIA as it affects most of our members. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2017 provides a “safe harbor” and additional protections for depository institutions who provide “financial product or service” to a covered business. This bill currently has 89 cosponsors in the House. NCIA’s D.C. team and lobbying consultants continue to push for cosponsors and support on these important bills.

CIJ: I saw that the Omnibus spending package includes Leahy Amendment protections for cannabis businesses through September. Would you consider that a win in your book? How are you working to maybe extend those protections?

Smith: It was a big win for us. It doesn’t always seem like it because it is really just maintaining the status quo, but we are up against an Attorney General lobbying congress to strip those protections and the house didn’t allow us to vote on it. But by including the Leahy Amendment in the budget we are not only protecting medical marijuana patients and businesses, but we sent a clear signal to Congress that the intention is not to go backwards. We have been playing some defense recently given the current administration’s policies. But we are working with our allies in congress to negotiate those protections for recreational businesses as well. Negotiations for that are just getting started now.

The fiscal year ends September 30th so the protections are in place for now, but Congress needs to pass another budget for the next fiscal year with those protections included. It’s hard to say when the vote will be, because they haven’t been passing budgets in a timely manner, but usually it’s in May or June, right around our Lobby Days. This is what we are focused on now, getting as many of these cannabis businesses and NCIA members out there to really show Congress what the legal industry looks like.

CIJ: NCIA is hosting the 8th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days a little more than a month from now; do you have any goals for that event? Is there anything in particular you hope to accomplish there? How can cannabis businesses get involved?

Smith: The primary purpose of Lobby Days is to show members of Congress and their staff (many of whom have never had exposure to cannabis businesses) what a responsible industry really looks like. And it lets business owners come tell Congress how current policies and laws are affecting their business. It is great for the cause and helps change minds in DC.

Last year, we came out of Lobby Days with several new co-sponsors of cannabis legislation and we hope to get that again this year. It is a great opportunity to connect and network as well; some of the top people in the industry will be there.

Former Mexican President Ridicules Justice Department’s Cannabis Policy

By Aaron G. Biros
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This week, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) hosted their annual Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, California amid some alarming news in Washington. On Monday, a letter written by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in early May made its way into the news, where he writes to Congress asking permission to prosecute medical cannabis businesses. The following day, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spoke to the Congress Appropriations committee, saying that, “From a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug- it’s properly scheduled under Schedule 1.”

Those two statements identify the crystal-clear anti-cannabis stance of the two most senior-level officials at the Justice Department, a position that should alarm cannabis legalization advocates.

The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, a prominent legalization advocate, gave a press conference at the NCIA event, where he gave reporters his thoughts on cannabis and drug legalization, the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. To be blunt, he called Sessions crazy and Trump destructive and ignorant.

former Mexican President Vicente Fox speaking to a room of reporters

“I don’t know what happened to this administration,” Fox told a room of reporters. “A large majority of US states have already approved the use of medical cannabis, which I think is a great thing,” says Fox. “The state of California by itself produces more marijuana than what we do in Mexico. There is a conflict between the frameworks of law… there is no consistency in public policy.” To be clear, the former Mexican president advocates legalizing all drugs, attributing the violence in Mexico to the failed War on Drugs. “I don’t think prohibition has worked and we [Mexico] have paid a huge price for that.”

Former Mexican president Fox’s focus on international politics during that press conference sheds some much-needed light on the violence and other externalities linked to organized crime and the black market drug trade. “We are going to stand firm against what is going on- it is not only the fate of the United States, it is the fate of the whole world,” says Fox. “It is a real shame for this nation in front of the world- we are all pissed off out there hearing this crazy tweeting and crazy public policies that has nothing to do with the soul of this nation… No nation can isolate [themselves] behind a wall and still succeed.”

NCIA: 280E, Federal Reform & Cannabis Lobbying Efforts

By Aaron G. Biros
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With the 2017 Cannabis Business Summit just around the corner, we sat down with Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), to hear about their lobbying efforts and what they’ll discuss in the keynote panel discussion on Taxes, 280E and the Path to Federal Reform. Henry Wykowski, Esq., attorney, Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center and Michael Correia, director of Government Relations for NCIA will join her on that panel discussion.

According to West, the 280E tax code issue has an enormous impact on the industry. This tax code essentially means that businesses cannot make deductions for normal business operations from the sale of schedule I narcotics. Because cannabis is still listed as schedule I, businesses touching the plant often pay a majority of their profits to federal taxes. “When they are handing over 80% of their profit to the federal government, which is a lot of money that isn’t being pumped into the local economy, that is a big problem,” says West. “We want to highlight how 280E isn’t just harmful to businesses, but also harmful to the local economies and states that have businesses dealing with cannabis in them.” As the primary organization lobbying on behalf of the cannabis industry in Washington D.C., they have three full-time staff as well as a contracted lobbying firm working there. “We are the voice on Capitol Hill for the businesses of the cannabis industry,” says West. “We primarily focus on a couple of core issues, and one of them is 280E tax reform since that is such a significant issue for our members touching the plant.”

Taylor West, deputy director of NCIA

Another important issue they have been lobbying on is banking access. According to West, banks and credit unions are regulated on the federal level, and as a result, are largely still reluctant to serve cannabis businesses. “The inconsistency between federal and state law means they are concerned their federal regulators will flag them for working with cannabis businesses,” says West. “It is very difficult to operate without a bank account- this creates a lot of transparency, logistical and safety issues. We are working with lawmakers to try and make a change in the law that would make it safe for banks to serve state-legal cannabis businesses.” NCIA’s lobbying efforts have long engaged a few core allies on Capitol Hill, including the representatives that formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “They have been champions of broader reform issues around cannabis,” says West. “But we are also starting to see new faces, new members of congress getting interested in these issues, beyond the traditional champions.” A lot of NCIA’s recent lobbying efforts have focused on recruiting members of Congress for those issues.

One example of their success came by teaming up with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican Congressman from Florida serving on the House committee overseeing tax issues. “He hasn’t previously been involved with cannabis legislation, but because Florida moved forward with the medical program, he got more interested in the issue and we helped educate him about the problem with 280E,” says West. “Having a republican that sits on the committee dealing with these issues is a huge step forward as we build the case for reform in D.C.” A lot of these efforts will be discussed in greater detail at the upcoming Cannabis Business Summit June 12-14. “We want to talk about the work we are doing just now in Washington D.C.; we have been doing a significant amount of work helping to draft legislation that would fix the 280E issue,” says West. “We will talk about those efforts as well as what businesses are currently doing to deal with the issue of 280E.” For readers interested in getting tickets, seeing the agenda and learning more about NCIA’s lobbying efforts, click here.

NCIA Brings Cannabis Business Summit to Oakland

By Aaron G. Biros
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The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) with their California affiliate, California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), hosted over 3,000 business professionals at this week’s Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, CA. According to Aaron Smith, executive director of the NCIA, this event drew their largest-ever gathering of attendees and well over 100 sponsors on the expo floor. In an exclusive interview prior to the event, Smith expected this would be a wildly successful year. “Last year we had just over 2,000 attendees in Colorado and we are expecting over 3,000 this year in California,” says Smith. “There is tremendous interest in the California market and it is so great to be here with all of the excitement leading up to the ballot initiatives in November.”

aaronsmithncia
Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA

The theme of the conference was set early on from industry progress to sustainable growth. “I am really proud that NCIA’s events always bring out the best and brightest in the industry,” says Smith. “It is mostly members of NCIA attending, which are the folks invested in the future of the industry and not just in it to make a quick buck; they are here to build a new business sector.” On Tuesday morning, Smith gave his opening remarks and introduced the first keynote delivered by Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and chief executive officer of Numi Organic Tea alongside Kayvan Khalatbari, founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting, to discuss the triple bottom line in business, emphasizing the need for social responsibility, which includes environmental stewardship, fair labor and trade laws and community integration among cannabis businesses. California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom also delivered a keynote address that was received with a standing ovation after discussing the November ballot initiative, which would legalize, regulate and tax the adult use of cannabis in the state.

businessummit
The first keynote panel of the Cannabis Business Summit

Newsom’s speech highlighted the state’s opportunity to make considerable progress in the cannabis legalization arena this November. The substance of his speech echoed that of many attendees focused on moving the industry forward sustainably. “We need to right the wrong of the failed war on drugs in America,” says Newsom. Boisterous cheers and applause followed almost every sentence as he continued to emphasize the need for social and criminal justice reform. “We are not doing this to be the next California gold rush or to make tax revenue; our purpose and focus is social justice,” adds Newsom.

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote

The Lieutenant Governor also mentioned the sheer massive size of California’s market opportunity and their pragmatic regulatory framework in development. “The entire retail of recreational and medical [cannabis sales] in Colorado was just shy of $1 billion last year; we are talking about our 58 counties up in the northern part of this state that produce anywhere from $9-13 billion [sic] of wholesale cannabis- it’s a game changer,” says Newsom. “We have had the benefit of seeing where other states have fallen short or struggled [in regulatory frameworks] and will present that to voters this November.” Newsom also mentioned that members of the cannabis industry need to act as stewards of the environment and protect the small farmers.

Panel discussions throughout the afternoon and following day deliberated a wide variety of topics from laboratory testing standards to the state of affairs in education, training and certification across the country. John MacKay, senior director of strategic technologies at Waters Corporation, led a panel titled Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods with Cynthia Ludwig, director of technical services at the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), Shawn Kassner, senior scientist at Neptune and Company, Inc. and David Egerton, vice president of technical services at CW Analytical Laboratories.

The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods
The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods

The panel addressed many of the current problems facing the cannabis testing space. “It is a very difficult plant to work with and labs are doing their best to provide reproducible results,” says Mackay. Cynthia Ludwig emphasized the need for collaborative studies and method validation in cannabis labs. “We [AOCS] provide official, validated laboratory testing methods, but the cannabis industry really has no official methods to work with,” says Ludwig. Egerton echoed Mackay’s concerns over difficult sample preparation and the difficulty of working with cannabis in the lab. “The problem is the matrix of the cannabis sample; the matrix is a critical aspect of method validation- ensuring we find the signal through the noise,” says David. “In the absence of official methods, cannabis labs need to perform method validation in-house for each type of sample, ranging from dry flower to different types of infused products and concentrates.” In addition to those difficulties of providing robust and reproducible lab tests, the panel emphasized that there is currently no laboratory accreditation program required by California regulators.

The cannabis industry in California is still rather unregulated and lacks consistency in safety standards across the market in almost every sector. Attendees seemed to look forward to the November 8th vote on the ballot initiative in California as a solution for the state’s current problems, hoping consumers and patients alike will find solace in a more regulated, standardized and safe market. The NCIA will be hosting a “Seed To Sale Show” focused on best practices and case studies January 31st and February 1st, 2017 in Denver. The next Cannabis Business Summit will be held from June 12th to the 14th of 2017 in Oakland, CA.