Tag Archives: washington

AG Sessions Ties Legal Cannabis to Violence, States React

By Aaron G. Biros
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At the Department of Justice on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters he believes cannabis use is unhealthy and leads to more violence, according to Politico. “I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions told reporters. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.” Those comments come a week after press secretary Sean Spicer suggested that the opioid crisis is tied to recreational cannabis use and seemed to hint that President Trump is okay with legal medical cannabis, but that the administration might not approve of recreational cannabis.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

During a press conference last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters “I do believe you will see greater enforcement of it,” referring to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act on recreational cannabis. He went on to make the distinction between medical and recreational use clear, while deferring to the Department of Justice, saying they will be looking further into the matter.

Much like press secretary Spicer incorrectly tied legal cannabis to the opioid crisis, Attorney General Sessions incorrectly tied legal cannabis to an increase in violence. “We’re seeing real violence around that,” says Sessions. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.” He did not discuss who those experts were or how he came to that conclusion. There are a number of studies refuting his claims, suggesting no causal link between legal cannabis and violence, with one study even suggesting a reduction in violent crimes after legalizing cannabis.

WH press secretary Sean Spicer during a press conference Image via Youtube
WH press secretary Sean Spicer during a press conference
Image via Youtube

Sessions has not mentioned any specific policy actions that he would take on the enforcement of federal law. “We’re going to look at it. … And try to adopt responsible policies,” says Sessions. Jeff Sessions making these comments should come as no surprise as he expressed his disdain for cannabis a number of times and has been known to be a Drug War stalwart. President Trump promised during his campaign that he supports medical cannabis and the matter should be left up to the states. These recent comments by his newly appointed press secretary and attorney general suggest the administration may not honor that campaign promise.

Politicians in states that have legalized cannabis were quick to condemn the comments and uphold this as an issue of states’ rights. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told reporters legal cannabis is in their state’s constitution and he intends to uphold the will of the voters. Oregon State Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) said in a press release, “I hope the new President and Attorney General keep their hands off Oregon’s marijuana law.” Regulators in Nevada have also said they plan to move forward with implementing legal recreational cannabis regulations, despite any federal actions or comments. Bob Ferguson, Washington State attorney general told the Associated Press, “We will resist any efforts to thwart the will of the voters in Washington,” and has requested a meeting with Sessions to discuss his policies. California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom wrote a letter to President Trump telling him not to follow through on those threats of greater enforcement. “The government must not strip the legal and publicly supported industry of its business and hand it back to drug cartels and criminals,” Newsom wrote to Trump. “Dealers don’t card kids. I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors.”

At this time, it remains unclear exactly how the Trump administration will address federal cannabis policy, but these vague and ominous statements from top federal officials continue to raise eyebrows in the cannabis industry. Until President Trump comes out with a clear stance on legal cannabis, those in the cannabis industry fear a federal crackdown on legal recreational cannabis is looming.

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2016 Year in Review: Why the Cannabis Industry Needs Resiliency

By Aaron G. Biros
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2016 was a tumultuous, but productive year for the cannabis industry. Larger companies began to take interest in the fledgling market, like Microsoft and Scotts Miracle-Gro. This year brought major innovations in technology like market data tools, advances in LED tech, efficient cultivation tech and patient education tools. The Supreme Court set an important precedent by shutting down a challenge to Colorado’s cannabis market.

Voters legalized cannabis in 8 states last month Photo: Nicole Klauss, Flickr
Voters legalized cannabis in 8 states on Election Day.
Photo: Nicole Klauss, Flickr

Election Day brought a renewed sense of vigor to the market with voters in eight states legalizing forms of cannabis. California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts passed recreational cannabis measures, making legalization’s momentum seem exponential.

But November 8th also gave Donald Trump the presidency, and his cabinet appointments, namely Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, gave many a feeling of uncertainty for the future of federal legalization. Adding insult to injury, the DEA repeatedly stood by their antiquated and ludicrous judgment for cannabis to remain a Schedule 1 narcotic.

Gage Skidmore, Flickr
Trump nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) for Attorney General Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

A lot of the fervor surrounding public safety could be described as overdramatic or somewhat unwarranted. 2016 was the year of misinformation. Fake news spread like wildfire with people sharing stories like this or this that turned out to be very misleading or just downright false.

States with legal cannabis came under heavy public scrutiny and addressed problems like consumer education, public safety and lab testing. Pesticides became a highly publicized and persistent issue in a number of areas, with some states regulating it heavily and addressing public health concerns. Plenty of new rules were formed surrounding labeling and testing, with Oregon, Colorado and Washington experiencing some regulatory growing pains.

Those growing pains shed light on the need for regulators to craft rules that allow for changes, adding rules where necessary and getting rid of cumbersome rules that might thwart market growth. Rules need to be able to adapt as the industry grows, much like businesses need to adapt to a changing market climate to stay afloat. This is all the more reason why cannabis businesses need to make their voices heard and work with regulators to move things forward.

Pesticide Use was a major issue of 2016 Photo: Michelle Tribe, Flickr
Pesticide use was a major issue in 2016
Photo: Michelle Tribe, Flickr

With so much uncertainty surrounding the future of legal cannabis in America, the word of the year for 2017 should be resiliency. In a social-ecological context, resiliency is “the capacity of a system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors such that the system remains within the same regime, essentially maintaining its structure and functions. It describes the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, learning and adaptation.”

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A warning label for cannabis in Oregon after the October 1st compliance deadline

Self-organization, learning and adaptation are three very important attributes of a resilient system. Without knowing what will happen when Trump’s cabinet takes the reigns of federal agencies, it is important to prepare for the unexpected. Adhering to standards like FOCUS allows cannabis businesses to prepare for unexpected events like recalls or product safety failures.

Those standards could also become the law down the road, as government officials often look to an industry’s voluntary consensus-based standards when deciding how to regulate it. In 2017, a number of state governments will embark on the heavy undertaking of writing the regulatory framework for legal cannabis.

2017 will bring opportunities and challenges to the cannabis industry. The industry’s rapid growth juxtaposed with political, economic and regulatory uncertainties create a climate that requires resilience to be built into the system at all levels. It is critical, now more than ever, that cannabis businesses build strong relationships with industry groups, advocacy groups and regulators to craft the institutional capacity and mutual trust needed to weather the uncertainty ahead.

NCIA and BDS Analytics Partnership: Analyzing the Market Data Tool

By Aaron G. Biros
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In May, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) announced a partnership with BDS Analytics, a cannabis market intelligence and data firm, according to a press release. Beginning in June of this year, NCIA members received access to market and sales data via BDS Analytics’ GreenEdge sales tracking software.NCIA.Logo

BDS_Logo_-_with_analytics_purple_text_copyAccording to Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA, market intelligence was previously very scarce in the emerging cannabis industry. “We hear from our members all the time that one of their biggest challenges is the scarcity of reliable market intelligence and data in the industry,” says Smith. “Being able to offer this kind of data as an included benefit of NCIA membership is incredibly valuable. We’re proud to partner with BDS and grateful for their support of NCIA’s mission.”

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Roy Bingham, CEO of BDS Analytics

The GreenEdge reports span numerous product categories as well as high-level market reporting. According to Roy Bingham, chief executive officer of BDS Analytics, NCIA member-businesses can take part in a tutorial to familiarize them with the interface. Bingham says they have extraordinarily comprehensive data on Colorado and Washington; they will have Oregon’s data ready in less than three months and roll out nationally to all major markets during the rest of 2016 and 2017.

Through using the interactive GreenEdge reports, we were able to identify key market figures and growth percentages, such as percent of the market share held by dry flower, average infused chocolate bar prices and much more. We found that Colorado’s recreational and medical markets totaled $996.5 million in 2015, just shy of a billion dollars. 28% of that market was held by infused products and concentrates, which grew by 111% over the previous twelve months. The average infused chocolate bar sold at retail in Colorado was priced at $14.47 last year. Overall, Colorado’s cannabis marketplace grew by over 41% between 2014 and 2015.

ScreenShotGreenEdge1According to Bingham, for most mature industries, a ten percent transaction value of the market is sufficient to scale data so that it speaks to the entire market. “However, this is not a stable, mature industry so we are more comfortable with a sample size of around twenty percent of the total market,” says Bingham. “We are well over those numbers in Colorado and Washington.” In order to get the data, BDS Analytics makes direct arrangements with dispensaries on their panel to get access to their point-of-sale data, which can be done in almost real time or in a download at the end of each month. “It is then standardized with a learning software system, assisted by personnel, that gets better over time at categorizing data points,” says Bingham. “We use algorithms to scale the data to the total industry size, and there are a number of adjustments made to those algorithms to make sure the data is normalized.” The program has recorded more than 20 million transactions to date.

ScreenShotGreenEdge2Dispensaries provide their data because they get the full service that comes with being a member of the panel, including details down to the brand level, according to Bingham. “This enables dispensaries to offer consumers what they are purchasing on average in their market,” says Bingham. “You get to see a breakdown of the most popular brands and items if you join the panel and submit data.” They have categorized more than 20,000 unique products, such as a number of different types of concentrates, different types of infused products and more.

The interactive data tool holds tremendous value for NCIA members and business owners in the cannabis space, giving them access to market data previously unavailable or difficult to find.

Nic Easley: How Far Have We Come?

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Nic Easley, chief executive officer at Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), delivered the keynote address at the first annual Cannabis Labs Conference, co-located with Pittcon. Easley begins with a discussion of the 2014 milestone where Colorado and Washington legalized recreational cannabis, opening the floodgates for a diverse range of products and business opportunities in quality and safety testing. With members of his team sitting on the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide working group, they are working with industry leaders and regulators to comprehensively write the standards. “The industry gets regulated in 2014 in Colorado with a total of $2.7 billion in sales in the first year of the industry’s history,” says Easley. “We have this giant influx of business, but without process validation, good agricultural practices and proper SOPs, each state is left to fend for themselves to write regulations.”

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U.S. Postal Service Memo Implications for Cannabis Marketing

By Aaron G. Biros
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The U.S. Postal Service sent a memo to print publications in the Northwest this week reminding them of federal law regarding advertisements for Schedule I controlled substances. This comes as less of a directive and more of a reminder for many magazines and newspapers that ads for marijuana in print publications delivered via the postal service are not compliant with federal law.

While nothing has changed in the legislation, it produces some confusion for small cannabis business owners and publications alike that are in compliance with state and local laws when running ads involving cannabis. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s frequently asked questions page on their website explicitly contradicts federal law.

One of the questions on that webpage asks: “May I use direct mail to households and inserts delivered via the Seattle Times and other publications?” And the answer provided by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board states: “Yes, inserts may not contain coupons.” This statement is clearly contradictory to federal law and to the memo sent by the U.S. Postal Service.

According to David Paleschuck, director of licensing and brand partnerships at DOPE Magazine, thinks this confusion will effect mainly small businesses. “As a business owner this tells me that it is OK to publish in newspapers like the Seattle Times which we all know is not directly delivered using the USPS.”

The memo does not directly affect DOPE Magazine’s distribution because it is not subscription-based. “We distribute via retail through dispensaries and recreational stores so it is not mailed directly to our readers,” Paleschuck says. “This will however affect many of our advertisers that are featured in subscription-based publications; Those companies and brands will not be able to advertise in publications sent through the postal service and thus non-subscription-based publications will pick up the slack.”

“States like Washington have very vague guidelines for marketing cannabis,” says Paleschuck. “There needs to more clarity for state and federal guidelines on marketing for cannabis businesses.” Moving forward, regulators will have to clarify these guidelines to determine how cannabis businesses can stay compliant.

Dawn Roberts, marketing executive at O.penVAPE, believes the memo will have a number of implications for her marketing strategies. O.penVAPE operates in nine states, manufacturing and selling oil cartridges and vape pens. “We are responsible for booking the advertising for all of our licensees to identify the best opportunities and provide support and direction for advertising and promoting their business,” says Roberts. “This [the U.S. Postal Service memo] affects our considerations for developing marketing strategies for all of the nine states we are in with regard to print publications.”

Looking at how the effects will impact their business development, Roberts needs to revisit every print publication they advertise in and check to see if it is subscription-based. “As a marketer for a brand that has a national footprint, I need to reevaluate my strategies for 2016 and look into certain publications that are subscription based,” Roberts adds. “We need to figure out how this will affect our marketing strategies for 2016.”

While this confusion gets sorted out, dispensaries and other cannabis businesses need to reevaluate their advertising and promotional strategies to stay compliant with federal and state laws.