Top 7 Public Policy Issues All Cannabis Advocates and Stakeholders Need to Consider
In October 2018, Canada became the second country, after Uruguay, to legalize recreational cannabis. Across the United States, there are currently 11 states including Washington D.C. that allow recreational use and over 22 states that allow medical use. While these recent developments indicate changing attitudes towards cannabis as a dangerous “drug,” they also present several public policy issues that stakeholders in the industry will need to proactively engage and address in the coming months and years in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry.
I have compiled a list of the seven public policy issues that all stakeholders in the cannabis industry should consider as the move towards full legalization in the United States approaches. My hope is to provide you a glimpse into topics that will be at the forefront in the public policy arena in the coming years, offering you a chance to prepare and plan for your engagement strategy in advance.
1. FEDERAL UNCERTAINTY WILL CONTINUE TO CREATE ISSUES IN THE INDUSTRY
Marijuana is still considered an illegal and dangerous drug at the federal level and is viewed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a significant source of revenue for large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels. The repeal of the “Cole Memo” by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to be a signal that the Trump Administration would aggressively enforce federal law in states that had established legalized frameworks for medical and recreational use. However, the federal omnibus spending bill that passed in March 2018 included an amendment that renewed the most significant aspect of the Cole Memo: the prohibition on the use of DOJ funds to prosecute in states with a state medical marijuana program. Advocates in the industry will need to be prepared to engage Congress and the Administration in 2019 and beyond to help shape any potential reform efforts at the federal level. With this Administration, it is not a given that reform is on the horizon or that it will be crafted to help the industry thrive, so stakeholders will need to maintain pressure on Congress throughout the year.
2. THE FEDERAL BAN WILL CONTINUE TO LIMIT BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES OPTIONS FOR THE INDUSTRY
One of the major obstacles created as a result of the federal ban is the limited banking and financial service options available to the industry. While options have emerged, (i.e. cannabis-focused credit unions, block chain, crypto currency, etc.) these are all temporary solutions that ultimately need to be addressed through persistent advocacy at the federal and state level. All stakeholders in the industry will need to continue to push for state-centric solutions at a minimum until the federal government reschedules marijuana or legalizes it across the nation.
3. STANDARDIZED TESTING METHODS WILL NEED TO BE CREATED AND IMPLEMENTED
A common complaint in states that have legalized recreational use is the inconsistent testing standards to determine which products are safe for consumers. Manufacturers in California and Washington have voiced their concern over the lack of uniform testing standards, and this will continue to be a serious concern. Entities throughout the supply chain will need to step up their advocacy efforts before their regulatory boards, commissions and legislative bodies to ensure there is a consistent method used to facilitate the safe and timely delivery of products to patients and consumers.
4. BUSINESSES ACROSS THE SUPPLY CHAIN WILL NEED TO ENGAGE LABOR IN THE LEGISLATURE AND PREPARE TO COLLECTIVELY BARGAIN IN THE WORKPLACE
In many states that have legalized recreational cannabis, organized labor has a strong presence and interest in organizing this burgeoning industry. All cannabis businesses across the supply chain will need to prepare to engage unions on a regular basis, both inside the workplace and in the legislature. In the workplace, this means preparing to collectively bargain over employee rights, working conditions, pay, and benefits. In the legislative arena, this means engaging on bill proposals and rules that relate to employee safety and rights in the workplace, training, and wages.
5. DATA PRIVACY AND CYBERSECURITY MEASURES WILL NEED TO BE STRENGTHENED
Laws and regulations in states that have legalized recreational use require cannabis businesses to retain certain records, including transaction receipts. These records most likely include personal consumer information and given the widely recognized issues involving hacking, the protection of consumer data will continue to be a serious concern. Businesses in the cannabis space will need to not only shore up their own data protection software and data breach response efforts, but they also need to understand their federal and local law requirements to protect this data. The cannabis industry will need to monitor and proactively engage in discussions around data privacy and cybersecurity in order to protect themselves from future liabilities in the event of a hacking incident. This includes engaging in legislation or rules that specify what types of records must be kept by the business.
6. THE CREATION OF SOCIAL EQUITY AND DIVERSITY PROGRAMS STILL HAS A LONG WAY TO GO AND REQUIRES SHORT AND LONG-TERM ACTION
One of the main arguments in favor of legalization was the opportunity to fix the broken criminal justice system and to reinvest in communities that were harmed most by the so-called “War on Drugs.” So far, states and local governments have had difficulty translating this promise into actual policies and programs—leaving many in the industry disappointed and feeling betrayed by the lack of business and technical support services that would create an equal and fair opportunity for all to participate in the industry. The industry will need to ramp up their efforts to address these issues and to continue to ensure that the promise of equal access for all becomes a reality.
7. THE PUSH TO EXEMPT COMPASSIONATE USE FROM TAXES IS ONLY BEGINNING
One of the unintended consequences of legalizing recreational use is the requirement that all cannabis be taxed, including that which was previously donated to low-income people that suffered from serious medical conditions. Attempts to exempt medical donations from excise, sales and use tax in California failed and advocates in Washington State are expected to push for an end of the excise tax for patients. The industry will need to partner closely with patient advocacy groups to continue pushing for compassionate use exemptions.
As the U.S. moves towards full legalization in the coming years, the industry will need to increase their advocacy efforts across all levels of government. Areas apt for additional legislative and regulatory action include cybersecurity and data privacy, labor relations, wage, product safety, general workplace safety, and much more.
Partnering with industry associations, leaders in your communities, and elected officials who support legalization can help everyone rise to the challenge and create a sustainable industry that builds a community of people working together, rather than at odds with each other.
If you have any questions about the policies discussed above or how to engage in the policy-making process, please contact Ashley Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org.