- Posted by Ryan Reaves
- On June 20, 2017
- business summit, cannabis industry, commercial cannabis, NCIA, oakland
Reflecting on the NCIA Summit and Why Safe Access Matters
This last week I had the privilege of attending the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in the 420-friendly hub of California and city where I reside; Oakland. I was there volunteering for Students for Sensible Drug Policy with a ticket provided to me by Berkeley Patients Group, for which I am extremely grateful. This was my first experience at a business conference and surprised to find the advocacy groups in attendance tabled way in the back, closest to the restrooms. The conference had obviously outgrown the Oakland Convention Center as during peak hours of the event the main hallway where vendors were tabling would become so congested that they were barely passable. Several conference rooms were so consistently at capacity I stopped trying to get into the panels held there. Meals provided for conference goers would vanish quickly and when you’d hope to get there in time for a sandwich you find all that is left are cookies or fruit. We personally witnessed a conference goer stuffing cookies into an empty potato chip bag, which was the highlight of only a few instances where the conference felt like other cannabis events I had attended in the past.
Ancillary producers and capital investment groups dominated the conference, with nearly every section of the main expo floor covered in lighting companies, soil and nutrient companies, extraction and laboratory machinery producers, product packaging suppliers, and people in business suits from investment firms, seeming very out of place to me. This was no longer the wild west of cannabis I had come to expect and appreciate living in the East Bay. This was business, with business people making deals wherever you could find space to talk in a group or make phone calls. I felt like our tables placement out and away from the main event was metaphorical of cannabis transitioning from a radical policy issue to being just another industry, just another product to invest in. There is something significant in how mundane it all seemed as I walked around the expo floor.
Cannabis is normalizing. It’s no longer this, hush hush on the down low kind of thing. I spoke with engineers who design extraction and cultivation equipment, bioscience researchers, laboratory technicians, economists, corporate lawyers, financiers, executive directors, CEO’s, and even a former first lady of Oregon. There were people from all over the world representing different interests in the industry including a PhD student from Israel, manufacturers from China, and CBD oil distributors from Mexico. I eventually came to appreciate our back and away placement as we did not have to deal with the noisy crowds and it offered us a little quiet so we could have easier conversations with people interested in our organization. It was curious to sense the surprise experienced by some when you remind them that the War on Drugs is still very much alive, with raids on cannabis producers and distributors continuing throughout California since the passage of Proposition 64. I felt some bewilderment by how unimpressed I was by all of it. Not in how the conference was managed by any means, despite being somewhat cramped, the event seemed hugely successful. I simply remember thinking “…This is it? This is the big corporate takeover of cannabis everyone has been so afraid of?”
The sense of dread experienced by some in the industry that this wonderful plant is somehow going to be swept away by big pharmaceutical and corporate interests I feel, at least as of now, is highly unrealistic. Currently, even the largest of commercial cannabis operations pale in comparison in size to most publicly traded companies and must be funded entirely from private personal investments that cannot be backed by banks or insured, with few investments realistically projecting any sizable percentage return. Many cannabis businesses will likely hemorrhage money as operational costs and costs for coming into compliance remain extremely high. Until cannabis is federally rescheduled and the 280E tax rule can be amended cannabis businesses cannot write off costs on their taxes, have bank accounts, or receive business loans. Although there are emerging alternatives to these cost barriers, the risk in starting a cannabis business remains very high. Many cannabis businesses will rise and fall in the coming years, even some with solid financial backing. It will take having talented, experienced, persistent, and well networked professionals and artisans to weather the ensuing chaos and survive the next few years as the industry continues to develop, expand, and stabilize. No amount of money will save your cannabis business if you do not have dedicated professionals and artisans growing, manufacturing, and designing your products.
Not to mention that every single Californian over 21 can legally grow cannabis in their own homes now, big pharma’s take over seems less and less feasible, at least for the time being. It would take some major policy changes to occur at both the federal and state level before anything like that could happen. The cannabis industry is still very much in its infancy and the growing pains will be real and widespread. Financial institutions are aware of the risks and many are choosing to wait it out. Banks sift through their member’s accounts looking for suspicious activity using sophisticated algorithms and when they conclude that your account is connected to commercial cannabis they will immediately request that you take your money elsewhere. Monsanto really doesn’t have time to play games like that.
As any worries of big corporate takeovers subside, I reflect on what the cannabis industry really means to me, and why this is all so important. We must end the War on Drugs. We must stop ruining lives and livelihoods over a plant that offers relief for so many people that is far less harmful or dangerous than other forms of medicine. We have an emerging industry that’s creating middle-class jobs faster than any other industry outside of tech. Artisans, master cultivators, and extraction technicians are finally gaining sustainable and legitimate employment that pays well and offers benefits. As some cities and counties in California ban commercial activity, many others are expanding or facilitating access. Safe access to cannabis is the primary goal. People anywhere should be able to obtain cannabis without risk of legal persecution and that cannabis or cannabis product should be tested safe, and originate from a legitimate business, who pays taxes and their workers a living wage.
Cannabis is a medicine regardless of the intent of the user. Used either recreationally or medicinally, cannabis contains a plethora of cannabinoids, that interact naturally with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the bodies endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids refer to a heteromorphic group of molecules that demonstrate activity upon cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are most densely concentrated in the central nervous system while CB2 receptors are mostly found in the periphery, often in conjunction with immune cells. The effects of THC (Tetra-hydrocannabinol) on the endocannabinoid system include analgesia and muscle relaxant effects, and may play a role in PTSD treatments through THC’s influence on the amygdala, helping purge the memory of fearful experiences. CBD, or cannabidiol, has anti-anxiety actions, anti-psychotic effects, modulates metabolism of THC by blocking its conversion to the more psychoactive 11-hydroxy-THC, serves as a powerful anti-oxidant, and has notable anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects. CBD acts to antagonize some of the undesirable effects of THC including intoxication, sedation, and tachycardia, “while contributing analgesic, anti-emetic, and anti-carcinogenic properties”. Researchers have provided evidence for the clinical efficacy and safety for cannabis in the treatment of spasticity, peripheral neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and intractable cancer pain. The hypothesis that the combination of THC and CBD increases clinical efficacy while reducing adverse events has been supported in peer reviewed research. Cannabis has no known risk of fatal overdose, has shown to have cancer-fighting properties, and may have prophylactic effects against damage that the tars and other potentially harmful chemicals present in cannabis smoke would otherwise cause. Although continued research is still needed, given the emerging evidence so far, cannabis is definitively different in its effects on the body when compared to tobacco, alcohol, amphetamines, and opiates, and should not be treated like these other substances by policy makers and law enforcement agencies.
I am grateful to have experienced this year’s NCIA Cannabis Business Summit and Expo. I am excited for the future and ready for the challenges ahead. I feel confident that this industry is creating employment opportunities for working class people while driving innovation and scientific research. It is theoretically feasible that as we continue to expand safe access to cannabis, opiate and alcohol abuse may subside, promoting overall health benefits for families and communities. As we continue to bring commercial cannabis businesses into compliance we should see the eventual rescinding of black market activities which often associates cannabis with more dangerous drugs, gun violence, and human trafficking. As advocates, we need to continue to promote sensible policies that provide safe access, limit, or reduce prohibitionist tactics by law enforcement agencies, and demand equity in business ownership. The next several years are going to be incredible and turbulent yet, I remain confident that the eventual outcome of decades of hard work will be something we can all be proud of.
 Rosenthal, Ed. Ed Rosenthals marijuana growers handbook: your complete guide for medical & personal marijuana cultivation. pg. 6 – 10. Oakland, CA: Quick American Publishing, 2010. Print. Ask Ed Edition.
 Russo, Ethan & Guy, Geoffrey W. “A Tale of Two Cannabinoids: The Therapeutic Rationale for Combining Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol”. Medical Hypotheses (2006) 66, 234-246.
Ryan Reaves is a Public Policy Analyst for CannaBusiness Law and Master of Public Policy candidate at Mills College in Oakland, California.