By John Schroyer
Chalk up another first for the cannabis industry.
Several marijuana business owners were able to sit down and talk seriously with 20 attorneys general from across the country last week about issues surrounding the cannabis industry, which some participants called a “monumental” development and a “watershed moment.”
Not only was the meeting arguably historic given the involvement of top state-level legal officials, but it culminated in an agreement to develop something the cannabis industry sorely needs: national cannabis business standards.
The group – which met in Hawaii – agreed to start work on a “Code of Responsible Practices” to help govern cannabis companies and promote the trade, even though many of the attorneys general hailed from states without legal MMJ or recreational marijuana.
Michael Bronstein, the lead consultant for the American Association for Cannabis and Hemp, said the intent is to develop an industrywide governing body that will help legitimize the cannabis industry in coming years – and assuage government fears at the same time.
“The idea is to impose standards so that…regulators feel comfortable with the marketplace practices that are going on, and that will allow for a safe market expansion, which is what attorneys general are looking for,” Bronstein said.
The conference was hosted by the Conference of Western Attorneys General, and its executive director, Karen White, said the group’s members would “like to see standards. We’d like to see regulations. We’d like to see protocols.”
White added that it’s very much in the industry’s own best interests to start working on such standards.
“In terms of the direction the (attorneys general) are going, what we are saying is, give us your best suggestions. Get yourselves organized. Get a self-regulatory body in place, or the alternative may not be as appealing to you,” White said.
Bronstein added that the code would be similar to standards used in other industries, such as the beverage and pharmaceutical sectors, to aid in self-policing when it comes to issues such as production practices.
Topics to be tackled by the code include everything from childproof packaging and marketing guidelines to manufacturing standardization and testing guidelines.
A committee of public officials and industry representatives will work together to develop the code.
Some of the attendees at the meeting, which was hosted by the Conference of Western Attorneys General, included MMJ America’s Jake Salazar, Medically Correct’s Bob Eschino, and High There’s Todd Mitchem, along with representatives from the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Production and the American Association for Cannabis and Hemp.
The attorneys general at the conference hail from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, the northern Mariana Islands, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming. There were also representatives from the attorneys general offices of Idaho and Michigan.
MMJ is legal in about half of those states, and recreational marijuana is legal in three.
Mitchem called the conference “monumental,” saying the fact that attorneys general from states where cannabis isn’t even legal are willing to speak to those in the industry is yet another indicator that the marijuana movement is making strides.
“We’re getting to this stage where if we really want to be viable at the top levels of law enforcement and government, and if we want a seat at the table, we’ve got to get to a place where we thoughtfully set standards that protect consumer safety and public safety,” Mitchem said. “That’s really powerful. Our industry hasn’t been allowed to do that a lot.”
Mitchem suggested that the Code of Responsible Practices could also lay the framework for regulations to be adopted by the next states to legalize either MMJ or adult-use cannabis, most likely in 2016.
“We hope that people will see us raising the bar, so when they look to legalize, they’ll say, ‘Here are some standards and processes that we could look at to guide us so we don’t make a big mistake,'” Mitchem said.
Eschino added that he thinks industry leaders working hand-in-hand with government officials on appropriate regulations for the industry is simply the logical next step, and said the best thing companies can do is get on board.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re being told what to do,” Eschino said.
He added that such a code will likely make it simpler for cannabis companies to expand nationally if there are uniform standards set up across the entire country.
“Every state seems to be on a different page, and some consistency across the states will make it better for the states and for the companies in those different states,” Eschino said. “So for the companies looking to branch out, it’s a good thing.”
The challenge will be convincing businesses to adopt the guidelines and standards.
A joint effort by Americans for Safe Access and the American Herbal Products Association to create industrywide standards has gained some traction, but it has also run into difficulties on this front.
Many businesses are reluctant to pay to meet standards and participate in these types of programs.
For companies concerned about how conforming to a new Code of Responsible Practices may cut into their bottom lines, Mitchem said that establishing such uniformity will likely save everyone money in the long run.
Eschino said Colorado companies are already dealing with super-strict rules. The choice, they both reiterated, is whether or not companies would like to have a say in the regulations they have to comply with.
“Ultimately what’s going to happen is either we are… going to figure out these things together, or regulators will do it for us,” Mitchem said.
Mitchem also said that the sense he got from the 20 attorneys general is that legalization – in some form or another – already feels like a foregone conclusion to them.
“We didn’t get questions about, ‘Why is this good for my state?’ All of the questions were about consumer safety, consumer protection, and helping build standards,” Mitchem said. “No one, even from the most conservative states, was pushing back on whether or not it should be legal. That’s a big movement change.”
Bronstein agreed and said he hopes the Hawaii conference is a sign of further collaboration down the road between cannabis companies and government officials.
“This felt like a watershed moment, and there were attorneys general who said that to me, in those exact words, because it’s not that people are saying, ‘Should there or should there not be an industry?’” Bronstein said. “People are now saying, ‘How do we make the industry better for the public and better for everyone?'”
A full list of committee members will likely be announced in a few weeks, Bronstein said. There is no timeline yet for when the code may be written, Mitchem said, adding that the project is ongoing.