NCIA board member departs early, rips group’s direction and handling of sexual misconduct accusations

Kayvan Khalatbari

When Denver marijuana pioneer Kayvan Khalatbari announced his resignation from the board of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) in December, he intended to continue serving in the role until spring.

But Khalatbari abruptly stepped down on Monday, telling Marijuana Business Daily he did so because of mounting frustrations with the organization’s direction and leadership.

He also expressed concerns about how NCIA – the largest and longest-running national trade association in the marijuana industry – has handled sexual misconduct allegations against fellow board member and leading legalization advocate Rob Kampia.

NCIA’s executive director refutes Khalatbari’s claims, saying the organization is on firm footing and growing rapidly.

And Kampia, who founded the Marijuana Policy Project and until recently served as its executive director, denies the misconduct allegations.

Khalatbari’s early departure and criticisms, however, come after NCIA axed a notable marijuana industry player who served as chief of staff for just six weeks.

The developments have led to speculation that the organization is experiencing turmoil and that some key members are unhappy with its current path.

Genifer Murray, who previously founded a prominent cannabis testing lab in Colorado, was fired as chief of staff about a month ago.

She has since voiced her own dissatisfaction with NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith and the organization’s overall direction.

In a letter to the board’s chair, Murray cited poor morale, favoritism and a lack of trust within NCIA.

Khalatbari previously expressed his overall concerns in a letter to the board as well.

“There was a point about two years ago when we stopped being as effective as we should have,” Khalatbari, a Denver cannabis consultant and former dispensary owner who was on NCIA’s board for three years, told Marijuana Business Daily.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels since then.”

NCIA is a prominent group that represents a wide swath of the marijuana sector, boasting roughly 1,500 cannabis-related businesses as members.

The organization – which has offices in Washington DC and Denver – focuses on advocacy and lobbying efforts for the industry, pushing for change federal change on issues such as banking and taxes.

Need for change?

No longer encumbered by a nondisclosure agreement, Khalatbari – who is running for mayor of Denver in 2019 – was free to speak critically about his time with the organization.

Aaron Smith

While calling Smith the “string” that ties the organization together, Khalatbari said this week that the organization would benefit from a change in leadership.

“(Smith’s) long overdue to be done with that organization,” Khalatbari said. “We’re playing in a big-boy space now.
“We need to hire someone who’s been there, done that in an association on a national level that has the number of members that we do and has the kind of stakes that we do.”

Smith of NCIA, however, said in an interview that the organization has become “a powerhouse in the industry. Our power and influence in the industry has continued to grow, and we’ll continue to see that in 2018.”

Smith, who has been the executive director for almost eight years, said he’s “never heard of anyone being dismissed from their job for having too much tenure.

“There are nonprofits’ CEOs who have been running their organizations successfully for decades,” he added. “I have every intention of continuing to lead NCIA for the long, foreseeable future.”

Sexual misconduct allegations

Khalatbari also attributed his early departure to the NCIA board’s inaction toward Kampia.

Rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct have swirled around Kampia recently and in the past.

Rob Kampia

Khalatbari wanted him removed from NCIA’s board after Kampia parted ways with the Marijuana Policy Project and that organization’s board in December under unclear circumstances.

Kampia believes the concerns stem from a story that a major newspaper is working on about him.

Last week, Khalatbari filed an ethics complaint against Kampia with the NCIA board over the issues.

“There’s a due process to everything, and we need to be conscious of that and give everybody the benefit of the doubt in every circumstance,” Khalatbari said, “but I know two people personally who are part of those allegations against Rob.

“Our industry can’t be associated with this kind of scandal, especially when there seems to be a lot of merit to it.”

Smith of NCIA said he doesn’t have the power to remove someone from the board by himself and that it is out of his hands as the investigation is conducted.

Kampia denied Khalatbari’s allegations.

“There’s a lot of people making ethical accusations against each other (at NCIA),” he said. “I’m not the only one who gets picked on.”

Kampia said he isn’t sure of the status of the investigation, but he seems to have moved on.

“Unlike the people in Denver, where all they seem to talk about is sex,” Kampia said, “I’m actually working on marijuana in South Carolina and Texas.”

Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]

8 comments on “NCIA board member departs early, rips group’s direction and handling of sexual misconduct accusations
  1. Current Member on

    As a current member of the NCIA, I truly hope the direction and leadership of the organization changes. Thank you to Kayvan and Genifer for sharing their honest perspective. I share similar concerns over favoritism. Part of the reason I keep my membership at the basic level.

    Reply
  2. Scott Tracy Imler on

    If the NCIA is going to be taken seriously enough to lead a national cannabis industry movement toward credible federal reform and regulation, it needs to meet the reasonable standards and socially responsible values expected in running a publicly accountable organization. The days of “sexy-gal” ads in the back pages of High-Times and the “medical aspirations” of buxom blonde bud-tenders in short white lab coatsm profit-porning on the backs of the seriously ill an disabled should both be things of the past that the NCIA should categorically reject, consistent with the growing recognition of sexual domination and abuse in every aspect of American life and the historic stewardship women have provided in protectitng and preserving cannabis genome across 80 years of prohibition. Come on, boys, this one is a no-brainer.

    Reply
    • Anon on

      I can’t say I’m well informed on the current turmoil. I’m expressing my Jubilation that a person named Scott is advocating against the objectification of women in marijuana. We are growers, retailers, lawyers, edible makers… the very plant is female. I’ve endured discrimination in hiring because I refuse to take the role offered to women in this industry.I had to become an owner to escape the the liabilities of being over 27, small breasted and black hair in LA. Bro culture is going down! And it isn’t just women who want to see an end to it, thankfully there’s some men like you who are on our side!

      Reply
  3. Larry Curtis on

    The NCIA has been playing favorites for years. They leave the REAL people who kept this industry alive in the dust. Ive been a grower for 40 years and yes ive been to some of their events. Its filled with “big players” most not even being growers or dispensary owners. They all look out for eachother…or try to at least…..looks like all this nonsense is finally coming to an end. Ill admit MJBIZ I didnt think you guys would do a piece on this but THANK YOU for doing it im sure the NCIA and their cronies tried to stop this from happening…..Im sure they asked “can I buy “AD SPACE” from you guys”?!? The BS needs to stop Aaron should step down along with all the other “voted in” board members that have been on it for 7 years straight. “voice of the industry” my behind. More like “voice of about 2 dozen companies”

    Reply
  4. T ride hydro on

    “Special Interests” are the exact kind of mechanisms that increase power for both the “regulators” and the “associations” whose paychecks depend on actual businesses providing value to the market place. Participating in this industry since 2001, I’ve always found it a bit strange that cannabis personalities or “advocates” for “special rights” to cultivate,distribute, and sell a NON TOXIC substance… Why not just let consumers decide?

    Reply
  5. Cody Bass on

    I believe this is an attempt of a few people with a divisive agenda to undermine the efforts of NCIA. I do not understand why anyone with the best interest of the cannabis industry would suggest removing the Executive Director of the only national cannabis association with an elected board of directors, during the most active time of cannabis policy on Capitol Hill ever. I am on the board of directors, I can confirm that the allegations around any financial issues have never been brought to the board and our simply rumors, and at this point have become slanderous towards the Executive Director. With regards to Rob Kampia, the board has bylaws that it must abide by. Rob was elected by the membership to his seat, removing him is not some simple process as this article and this group of divisive people make it seem. The facts here remain that an ethics committee was formed immediately following allegations made from a statement not just rumors. People must remember that Rob was re-elected to the board after the 2010 allegations, so the membership of over 1500 business’s across the nation put Rob on the board. The ethics committee has decided to conduct a full investigation and the Executive Director has suspended Mr. Kampia until the conclusion of the investigation. So the allegations that we have not acted are also false. I think this divisive group wants to control the lobbying effort on Capitol Hill, and not have it directed by a 22 person board, rather a few wealthy people from a single state want to set policy for the nation. I can remember the federal excise tax that some would like to give away without getting anything, basically give a 5% federal excise tax to have a solution for 280e, but with no legalization, a few people were all about it, the rest of us were really against it, that is why a democratic board is critical for the national lobbying effort. We won’t give a tax if were gonna be considered criminals. This would have been giving the carrot away before the rabbit has even showed up! These are issues that a democratic board should be making, not just a few wealthy guys that really only have there interest in mind.

    Reply

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