What does it mean for the cannabis industry to be the “best version” of itself?

On Monday, June 24, 2019 a group of cannabis industry participants, patients, activists and ancillary business owners gathered to explore this question.   As people signed in, they identified their perspectives as “plant touching business experienced”, “ancillary business experience”, “activists” and “patients”.

A brief introduction by Soulful Cannabis Co-founder & President Skip Shuda, acknowledged the “land grab” fever that is sweeping through the legal cannabis industry; the emergence and dominance of “multi-state operators (MSOs)” and the beginning of some cannabis companies creating equity and restorative justice programs.   Skip mentioned the Cresco SEED program and the TerraVida Victims of the War on Drugs (VOWD) program.

 After the introduction, people wrote down some of their highest priorities for a more conscious and a “better” cannabis industry.   These priority messages were organized into six buckets including:

1) Social Justice

2) Community

3) Employees

4) Laws and Regulations

5) Patients and Caregiving

6) Education

Four working groups tackled the buckets and came up with the following summaries:

Laws and Regulations Group Summary – At the state level in Pennsylvania, we’d like to see :

  • Police officer and parole officer training
  • Adult use laws
  • The ability for citizens to cultivate their own cannabis (home grow)
  • More qualifying conditions
  • Accountability for permit holders – Answering the question: “what have you achieved relative to your commitments from the application process?”
  • The PA Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana division should provide transparency around funding sources, funding amounts and use of funds
  • It appears that the PA DOH Medical Marijuana division is understaffed given the magnitude of the program, which is growing daily

At the federal level, we’d like to see:

  • Banking reform so state legal businesses can operate with full and unencumbered banking services, including immunity from the onerous Section 280E of the IRS code
  • CBD standards need to be established, especially with clear, comprehensive testing and labeling
  • descheduling of cannabis and extending the ATF agency to the CATF (Cannabis, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agency.   Some felt that rescheduling is more appropriate.   This may be an area ripe for future exploration. 
  • Labeling standards for cannabis across the country

The Care-taking and Patient Care Summary sought the following improvements:

  • More affordable process and products.   WIth a $200 physician certification cost and a $50 Department of Healthy processing fee, it is currently too expensive to apply for or renew a medical marijuana card.  New patients often need to experiment to find the right product for them.   This is a costly exercise given today’s product costs.  Low income, chronically ill patients are at an enormous disadvantage with respect to access to medicine
  • Some suggested that the PA DOH establish a cap on what a physician can charge for certifications or re-certifications.   A debate is emerging in the healthcare industry as to whether a physician can provide a certification/recommendation as part of a regular, insurance-backed office visit.   While some physicians are willing to do this, many are fearful that insurance companies will refuse payment.   Clarity from insurers needs to be provided to support patient recommendations as part of a regular office visit.
  • There are concerns that some physicians are certifying for under 12 months only so they can generate a regular certification revenue stream.  It is suggested that certifications should be for the full twelve months unless a compelling reason can be demonstrated for a shorter period.   
  • More consistent performance on product bio-availability
  • Consistent and informative labeling across all products
  • The Department of Health should provide a well-defined grievance process for patients who don’t get satisfactory resolution after trying to resolve directly with the permitted or certified people involved with the patient’s grievance
  • Better education for patients so they understand the healthcare options they have with medical marijuana

Community and Social Justice Summary highlighted:

  • Social Justice is a conversation about unpacking stigma and pre-conceptions and replacing them with new information and stories of healing.
  • We should be teaching the history of cannabis prohibition and its disproportionate impact on black and brown communities to everyone interested in the industry.  This is an important lesson in social injustice and lays the groundwork for shifting people’s perspectives
  • We need to learn how to organize and make grass-root-level changes
  • The cannabis industry labor force must be a central stakeholder in this conversation
  • The suggestion was made that we should hold expungement clinics
  • It was estimated that only 10-20% of the PA market is locally owned.  The rest are owned or operated by MSOs (Multi-State Operators).   Future programs should seek to increase ownership for small and local businesses, especially in communities that have been previously targeted by the “war on drugs”.
  • It remains difficult for cannabis businesses to advertise using social media.  Big Tech that control social media should allow for free and open marketing of cannabis products, subject to ethical restrictions such as not marketing in ways appealing to minors
  • #FreeCannabis – free the plant, free the people

Education and Patients Summary highlighted:

  • Menioned in the previous section, but warrants repeating:   We should be teaching the history of cannabis prohibition – it is an important lesson in social injustice and lays the groundwork for shifting people’s perspectives
  • there is a strong need for better access to better medical education for healthcare professionals, at all levels
  • include holistic practitioners in educational efforts
  • the industry must provide access to full product information in a standardized format for making medical decisions
  • de-stigmatize cannabis.   Some felt that alcohol is an example of acceptance in our culture which is less stigmatized.  Others worry that alcohol is not the right model for a plant that provides so much healing.  

We covered a lot of ground, navigated through several heated friction points and came up with some solid ideas for action, including:

  • Soulful Cannabis will take a serious look at hosting an expungement clinic
  • We plan to relay these suggestions to the PA Department of Health and see what additional light they can shed on these topics
  • Encouraging permit holders to be more transparent regarding their promises made and kept will help the industry become more accountable
  • Applying pressure to the insurance industry may help make recommendations more prevalent and affordable
  • More education on the history of cannabis prohibition and the impact it has had on communities of color will help to begin the healing and restoration process
  • Supporting efforts around standards for manufacturing and labeling will help make products more accessible and safer
  • Several follow-up conversations were sparked between our community members who showed up for this extraordinary conversation.   These conversations will continue and lead to more action.

Did we answer the question, “What is the ‘best version’ of the cannabis industry? “?

I fear not.   This is an enormous topic. But we did start to answer the question… and, if the ideas outlined in this post were implemented, it would be a better industry. 

We are delighted that we helped to jump-start the conversation.  

We are all stakeholders.   We need your voice in this conversation.  Please add your best ideas and highest priorities for creating a healing and healthy cannabis industry – or challenge our thinking – in the comments below.  

Looking for more on the social justice history of cannabis?  Lawyer and Consultant Shoshanna Silverberg provides this overview of Conscious Cannabis 101.  Shoshanna calls for role models.
The industry needs role models, though. It needs successful entrepreneurs and social impact investors who have experience making values-based businesses profitable and pushing for legislation that enables this approach to conscious commerce, conscious capitalism, and conscious business. What the industry has to offer in return is limitless if entrepreneurs are able to find and build with this type of support.”   

We agree. 

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By Soulful Steve

I’m Soulful Steve.  I'm a writer, IT professional, and daily user of cannabis for relief and wellness. Soulful Cannabis is where I share knowledge, product info, and occasional tall tales with those of you out there considered cannabis curious!  Now that I’m getting older, I’m leaning into CBD products to keep my quality of life and take the edge off daily stress. Come explore the amazing cannabis plant with me!