The National Cannabis Industry Association is poised to roll out an initiative aimed at uniting dozens of state-level trade groups, a move designed to make it easier for member businesses to work together to promote legalization and pro-marijuana policies.
While the move could help NCIA – the largest and oldest cannabis trade group – move past some turbulent history with various state associations, it also runs parallel to another new coalition of state-level trade organizations.
That could set the stage for cannabis lobbying competition and possibly for membership numbers.
NCIA’s venture, called the Allied Associations Program, is in its infancy and may include only “five or six” state marijuana trade associations when launched, said Rachel Kurtz, NCIA’s outreach manager who’s been leading the rollout.
The general idea, Kurtz said, is to “develop closer relationships with state, local and issue-specific trade associations, with the goals of harnessing the power of our collective knowledge.”
Kurtz plans to contact about 150 different state associations she hopes may be interested in participating.
According to a draft of a cooperation agreement for Allied Associations provided to Marijuana Business Daily, the purpose is “to formally cooperate together and share resources for mutual benefit.”
The agreement makes clear, however, that NCIA does not endorse policy positions of members, nor does it consider members formal affiliates.
NCIA has only two affiliated state organizations: the California Cannabis Industry Association and the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio.
Not the only one
NCIA’s move coincides with the recent creation of the Western Regional Cannabis Business Alliance, a separate coalition of at least nine state associations with at least one federal lobbyist.
That’s compared with NCIA’s two full-time lobbyists on the ground in Washington DC, along with help from Federal Advocates, a contract lobbying firm.
The WRCBA, announced in January, includes associations from Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Washington state and Washington DC.
“We have some different styles as organizations and a different approach to what we all have as the same goal, being federal legislation that at the very least protects states that have chosen to legalize,” said Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Alliance, which helped galvanize the WRCBA and also employs the lobbyist in DC.
Both NCIA’s Allied Associations Program and the WRCBA are intended to be unifying forces aimed at furthering the interests of marijuana businesses.
It’s unclear why the two aren’t already working together.
But they’re not.
Kurtz said she hopes NCIA and the WRCBA don’t evolve into competitors, noting that there’s nothing precluding individual businesses from supporting both coalitions.
But the door may be open for potential competition between the organizations when it comes to swaying members of Congress as the industry broadens and differing businesses start to lean on public officials to further their agendas.
“This has been the biggest problem for all of our state-based associations,” said Dan Anglin, who helped found the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, also known as C4.
“Retailers want different things from manufacturers, and manufacturers want different things from cultivators, and commercial industry wants something different than the caregivers, and consumers want something different than all of them.
“You can’t come to Congress or the state capitol with 100 different issues and hope to solve them all,” Anglin added.
“You really need to focus on, what is the goal? The primary goal for everyone should be descheduling cannabis completely.”
Neither Anglin – also the owner of Colorado edibles maker Americanna – nor C4 are members of NCIA or WRCBA.
There are already hints of industry interests splintering, with NCIA and WRCBA potentially representing different political priorities.
For instance, the WRCBA has aligned with the New Federalism Fund (NFF), a lobbying group founded in March 2017 focused specifically on banking and taxation reform for MJ companies, rather than full legalization.
NCIA’s mission, however, is much broader.
According to its website, its goals are “to promote the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and work for a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for that industry in the United States.”
That includes banking and tax reform.
But it also means NCIA isn’t focused only on those two issues, as the NFF is.
The point man for the New Federalism Fund, Neal Levine, also resigned his NCIA board seat in January.
But Levine remains senior vice president for government affairs at LivWell, one of the largest marijuana retail chains in Colorado. Levine did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Christophersen said she thinks there’s a split between some activist views within other groups – though she didn’t identify NCIA by name – that have an “all-or-nothing” approach to federal cannabis policy, akin to Anglin’s identification of descheduling MJ as a top priority for national advocacy groups.
Christophersen believes a more “incremental” approach would be more effective for MJ companies, similar to how NFF is prioritizing banking and tax reform, which are more immediate industry concerns.
Healing old wounds?
Separately, NCIA’s Allied Associations Program has made at least one pseudo-adversary into a full-fledged ally, especially for NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith.
“I was prepared to line up for Aaron’s head … until Allied Associations,” said Patrick Moran, co-founder of the Texas Cannabis Industry Association.
“When we first started TCIA, what Allied Associations is, that’s what we were pitching three years ago.”
Smith and NCIA created some ill will in 2015 by making legal threats against TCIA and another group in Nevada for adopting the monikers “Cannabis Industry Association.”
Smith said NCIA sent out at least six cease-and-desist letters to organizations such as TCIA.
Moran, who still runs the TCIA along with his own cannabis company, Acquiflow, was one of about 16 state trade association representatives on hand in Denver in early February for Smith’s pitch on the value of the Allied Associations Program.
Moran was optimistic after the presentation.
“Based on the formation of Allied and the agreement they’ve put forward,” he said, “I think you’ve got the underpinnings finally of an actual national organization, because NCIA has never in reality been an actual national organization.”
John Schroyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org