SACRAMENTO – The California Cannabis Industry Association’s first annual policy conference, held March 29 at the Sacramento Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street, was a sold out affair that offered the well-dressed and well-behaved crowd an efficiently run program that provided valuable information about the state of industry politics, insight into the regulatory progress being made by the state, and a little bit of drama.
As far as the industry has come in its march to acceptance and legalization, however, the sartorial demeanor of the standing room-only audience—commented on approvingly by several speakers—almost worked to underscore the tenacious stereotypes that continue to dog the industry. It’s getting better, to be sure, but old labels die hard.
A sign on the door leading into the Camellia & Gardenia Ballrooms where the conference was held read, “No Media Allowed,” a staffer indicating that it was meant not for industry press, but for mainstream, “Like the Bee,” she added offhandedly. But in fact the Sacramento Bee was in attendance, and reporter Jeremy B. White posted a story on the conference later in the day to SacBee.com, where he observed that “the conference testified to the pot industry’s increasing sophistication. Suit jackets, ties and lapel pins outnumbered hemp shirts.” But he did further note, “The audience included not just dispensary owners but also representatives of older businesses that have expanded into pot, like insurance firms (yes, you can file a claim on a plant), weed-focused tech companies and investors.”
The strength of the conference was measured by the substantial depth of knowledge brought to bear by the diverse lineup of speakers, who, during a morning 3-hour session, followed by a networking lunch and a 90-minute afternoon session, addressed many of the core questions and concerns that many in the industry still have with respect to the recently enacted Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Ace (MMRSA) and the proposed state ballot initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), aka the Sean Parker initiative.
To the credit of CCIA’s executive director, Nate Bradley, who oversaw the day’s proceedings and moderated much of the morning session, a range of viewpoints was presented during the day, with no apparent effort made by Bradley to stack the deck in favor of those in support of AUMA, which has the official backing of CCIA, or steer the conversation away from dissent. To the contrary, CCIA appears to be actively courting a robust debate of the issues, a sign of a confident organization and a healthy industry.
That said, the concerns expressed by several speakers reflect the divisions that remain among serious and committed members of the industry, not the least those expressed by Harborside Health Center executive director Steve DeAngelo, who spoke passionately and articulately about the problems he sees with MMRSA’s distributor requirement, which he said had the potential to “strangle California’s medical cannabis industry in the cradle before we even have a chance to grow up.” Among several issues he has with the requirement was the determination that it would result in a 50 percent increase in the retail price of cannabis flowers.
Admitting that he had been preoccupied with personal legal issues during the last legislative session, DeAngela vowed to the room, “I will not by ignoring this issue this legislative session.” It was a promise that brought sustained applause and vocal support for his concerns by subsequent speakers.
It was that sort of day: direct, relevant, eloquent, and, at times, poignant.