Licensing is a critical issue for any business. Unfortunately, the process is much more convoluted for the cannabis industry, where its legality remains in flux. Additionally, the rules and process vary by state and even municipality. Meanwhile, reports of certain groups of people having the deck stacked against them have come to light.
These points were all discussed at Revel’s cannabis and licensing event on April 9th. Held at SubCulture in New York City, the event drew hundreds of cannabis professionals and enthusiasts for an evening of networking and guest speakers.
Ryan Lepore, Business Operations Manager for PrestoDoctor, was one of the attendees that night. He explained how Revel provides a diverse experience between the intersections of the industry. “You are able to participate with an accurate mix of social justice, awareness, industry knowledge and expertise. The event captures the culture of a rapidly pulsing community within its infancy.”
Emceed by Conrad Martin of Green Entrepreneur’s This Week In Weed, the evening’s guests represented three distinct areas of cannabis work that all have experience in licensing.
The first speaker of the evening was Jason Starr, assistant counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Starr crafted the bill for cannabis legalization in New York State. The bill included details on how a person could obtain a license for their business.
Starr previously worked for the New York Civil Liberties Union, where he worked with groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance. Starr mentioned to The Marijuana Times how the state benefitted from watching numerous states and Canada establish the framework of its laws. One aspect he said was an explicit equity mandate. This is a subject that helped threaten to derail the state’s legalization efforts over a guaranteed portion of cannabis taxes going into an economic equity program.
The Governor’s assistant counsel also discussed establishing a legal framework that addresses social equity licensees, spanning those with criminal convictions and individuals from communities that often do not have access to capital. From there, Starr added, “What does it take to take that thing that has intrinsic value right there, like a license, and then turn it into an economically viable concern?” He mentioned how he was able to find that answer by engaging with communities and business owners, including plant touching and ancillary companies.
When discussing the stalled progress of legalization in the state, Starr noted that New York is still in its legislative session. “I still think that everyone is actively engaged, continuing to refine and craft the policy.” He added, “One of the things that I think we’ve learned a lot about is having a degree of flexibility.”
The second speaker of the evening was Chanda Macias, MBA, PhD. Dr. Macias is the chairwoman of the board of manager and CEO of Women Grow, in addition to numerous other titles. She holds licenses in numerous states, including in cultivation and dispensary sales.
Like Starr, Dr. Macias is currently working on legislation, among other areas. She explained to The Marijuana Times how legalization progress is being made in Louisiana, where inhaled products are still prohibited. She also mentioned the shortcomings around law in Maryland and Georgia when it came to equal measures. “You’ll see that most of the regulations and legislation are directed for big companies, and they don’t really look about what the people want.” She added, “It’s challenging, definitely.”
She did offer praise for one state, in particular. “But what I was really proud about is that New York pushed back,” explaining about the recent pushback from communities affected by the War on Drugs. “We need something that will reflect this population and reflect what we want to see in a program that is for a patient, not for a big company.”
During her moving presentation to the crowd, Dr. Macias discussed how as a black woman she faced extreme adversity throughout the process, including today. One telling anecdote came after she had obtained her license to operate a dispensary, where she was almost barred from operating at her leased location by her landlord. Once opened, she had just one cultivator willing to sell two cultivars to supply her store. Yet, despite the high hurdles, which included the loss of her house, Dr. Macias now boasts a robust client rolodex and numerous licenses across several states.
Rounding out the evening’s speakers was Ashley Picillo, founder of Point Seven Group, a cannabis consulting firm which handles licensing and other matters. She is also the author of Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Women, Weed and Business, a biographical collection of 21 women’s experiences in the legal cannabis industry.
In an interview prior to her presentation, Picillo explained how licensing varies by state and municipality. However, after working in over 60 different regulated markets across the globe, she’s noticed commonalities amongst the difference. “Sometimes I’ll see questions are specific laws that I know I saw in another place, and we actually are able to matrix that out a bit more.”
She went on to point out how a framework can succeed by taking notes from the past. “I think cities, counties, states, countries could all benefit substantially from looking at prior markets and figuring out the tenants of those laws that work and the ones that were maybe not the right fit for their program.”
Picillo also highlighted efforts to diversify the industry, though she noted that the movement “has a very long way to go.” She pointed out how states like Ohio have adopted measures – like an anonymous application process – to even the playing field for applicants.
Picillo also highlighted Maryland’s efforts, which include awarding 15 of 100 points to diversity-specific questions. She elaborated, saying, “It’s not going to be enough for you to have a token woman or a token person of color on your management team. You’re actually going to need to demonstrate that you have the hiring and recruitment plan that’s aligned to long-term diversity goals.”
The night was capped off with a Q&A featuring the three with Martin as emcee, offering one last round of licensing inquiries – despite many answers not being able to be addressed due to time constraints. Getting people to leave SubCulture proved difficult for staff as attendees continued to mingle long after the event. Information was shared as the groups slowly listened to the building staff.
Revel returns with a summer event with its date yet to be released.