More than 30,000 people flocked to Las Vegas this week to attend the MJBizCon conference and trade show. While licensed Canadian cannabis companies face challenges due to weakened investor interest and fewer-than-expected store openings, many in the United States strive for national legalization and funding. Currently, more than 30 states have legalized either medical or adult-use cannabis, but due to federal restrictions the product cannot cross state lines and financial tools for companies remain limited.
While Canadian cannabis regulators and businesses frequently look to the more mature legalized cannabis industry in certain states for guidance and trend expectations, the United States still has many regulatory and financial wrinkles to iron out to improve its business landscape.
Federal cannabis legalization in the United States is widely expected, though the timing remains unknown. As Nathan Daschle, president and chief operating officer of The Daschle Group, put it while speaking at a conference panel: “It’s kind of like an action movie. We know the hero’s going to win. We just don’t know when.”
“It’s worldwide. There’s no turning back,” said fellow panelist Linda Mercado Greene, owner and CEO of Anacostia Organics and an influential Washington lobbyist.
Below are some key points expressed by some U.S. lobbyists and business operators so far this week from the event’s stage.
Inter-state collaboration is key to accelerating U.S. cannabis success
“One would think the next five states would learn from the last five states,” said Steven Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, while speaking on a panel.
Mr. Hawkins was referring to the need for the next five states that decide to legalize cannabis use for either medical or recreational purposes to learn from states where it is already legal. Currently, the governments of each state are not collaborating to prevent the same mistakes ones from being repeated in different locations, he said.
He said he hopes that everyone has learned from California’s mistakes, for example.
California is one of the most mature legalized cannabis markets in the United States, but the legal industry there continues to struggle amidst challenging regulations that have enabled the black market there to continue to thrive.
The legal industry and lawmakers need to bring together state regulators “to make the whole market work better. We have to make that work,” Mr. Hawkins said.
The U.S. cannabis industry needs a whole lot of RICE
What has RICE got to do with cannabis, you ask?
Tom Daschle, founder and CEO of advisory firm The Daschle Group and a former South Dakota senator, said this is what the U.S. cannabis industry needs in order for the federal government to remove the drug from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act and be permitted in more medications.
“We have a long way to go in that regard. These are challenging times,” Mr. Daschle said.
And by RICE he means: resilience, innovation, collaboration, and engagement.
“RICE is key to whether or not we will succeed. It is daunting,” Mr. Daschle said.
“There are going to be plenty of setbacks.”
The SAFE Banking Act “will make a big difference and we need to get it through,” he said.
In addition to the need for financial lending to U.S. cannabis companies, technical innovation is also “a real key” for the industry to move forward, he said.
The power of social equity
Illinois, for example, is supporting companies with large social equity programs, said Adam Goers, vice-president of corporate affairs at Columbia Care Inc., a medical cannabis companies licensed in 14 states and the European Union.
The definition of social equity varies by region but typically requires a certain level of company ownership or employee base to come from areas that are disproportionately affected by poverty or cannabis-related arrests.
“I’m working very closely on the social equity piece,” Ms. Mercado Greene said.
“We don’t want anyone set up for failure. We want you to succeed.”
Social equity “creates a lot of opportunities for businesses,” Mr. Goers said.