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Empowering Voices in the Cannabis Industry: Insights from NCIA's California Stakeholder Summit 2024

Empowering Voices in the Cannabis Industry: Insights from NCIA's California Stakeholder Summit 2024

This post originally appeared on Ben's LinkedIn Newsletter, Infused Insights. You can read and leave comments here.


Last week, I had the privilege of attending the California Stakeholder Summit 2024, an event that truly highlighted the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) commitment to fostering collaboration and progress in the cannabis space, both at the State and Federal levels. I am deeply invested in ensuring that small and medium-sized cannabis businesses across the United States are heard on Capitol Hill and that we're adapting the conversation to today's needs, and I feel this event facilitated that incredibly well. The summit provided a vital platform for members, supporters, regulators, and elected officials to engage in discussions pivotal for the future of cannabis policy and regulation.

Featured Speakers:


Despite our common interests, major players in the industry, such as multi-state operators (MSOs), typically possess ample resources and establish their own lobbying groups to influence legislation in their favor. Now, it's more crucial than ever for individuals to engage and contribute to the dialogue.

This event was especially timely and well organized with two panels: 1) one focusing on the local impact of CA state regulations, such as the recently proposed AB2223 that seeks to clean-up the well-intended, but relatively incomplete, AB45; and 2) the second panel welcomed Congresswoman Lee and Director Elliott to discuss the impending rescheduling and the relationship between the state and the federal government.

California Roundtable: Operators and Legislators Discuss AB 2223

Cody Stross (Northern Emeralds), Kimberly Cargile (A Therapeutic Alternative), Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (District 4, D-Winters), and Khurshid Khoja (NCIA / Greenbridge)

In an engaging roundtable discussion, industry operators came together to discuss and deliberate the potential impact of AB 2223, a bill spearheaded by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, who also participated in the discussion. This legislation, aiming to refine the relationship between hemp and cannabis within California's market, is seen as a pivotal move towards harmonizing and enhancing the state's cannabis ecosystem after AB 45 created a faire amount of ambiguity. The conversation revealed a collective recognition of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, emphasizing the importance of collaborative input and a nuanced approach to regulation and industry support.

Key Takeaways from the Discussion:

  • Legislative Intent and Industry Impact: AB 2223 seeks to seamlessly integrate hemp into the cannabis supply chain, address the regulatory landscape of intoxicating and synthetic hemp ingredients, and foster a regulatory environment that supports industry growth. Its preliminary nature is by design, inviting widespread commentary to shape a bill that truly reflects the needs and realities of the industry.
  • The Call for Balanced Regulation: At current, it's incredibly hard for licensed cannabis retailers to compete, not only with the illicit market, but with the growing hemp market in unlicensed retailers, like smoke shops, gas stations, and corner stores. There's a pressing need for a regulatory framework that navigates the fine line between over-regulation and the necessity for consumer safety. The discussion underscored the importance for the establishment of testing standards for hemp products that align with those of the cannabis industry.
  • Economic Opportunities and Competitive Edge: The power of California branding and the potential for export were highlighted as key drivers for giving local operators a competitive advantage. This aligns with the broader goal of creating a thriving ecosystem that benefits both hemp and cannabis operators, facilitating a marketplace where licensed retailers can compete fairly.
  • Community Engagement and Feedback: The emphasis on reading the bill and submitting comments was clear, with a call to action for all stakeholders to engage in the legislative process. This participatory approach is crucial for crafting legislation that is both effective and reflective of the diverse perspectives within the cannabis and hemp communities.
  • Future Directions and Implementation Challenges: The conversation also touched on the complexities of implementing AB 2223, from the integration of hemp into the cannabis supply chain to the traceability of products. The diverse opinions on THC limits and the cautious approach to synthesized ingredients highlight the nuanced considerations that must inform the bill's final form.

I thought it was an incredibly enlightening discussion that invited engagement with the political process. It was great to see the champion of a critical bill be so open with the cannabis and hemp community. I had some additional thoughts inspired by this discussion:

  1. Synthesized Ingredients Should Not Be Automatically Vilified: It's crucial to approach synthesized, intoxicating or otherwise, ingredients with caution rather than outright negativity. These components are prevalent across mainstream supply chains and, with rigorous testing and proper procedures, can be managed safely. This stance advocates for a nuanced understanding of product safety and innovation in the industry, and I acknowledge that without regulations, unsafe products can run rampant.
  2. Support for "Safe Harbor" Laws in California: To enhance the competitive edge of California's business operators against their national counterparts, which seems supported by Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, hemp manufacturers in the state should be provided with "safe harbor" laws. These laws would offer protections independent of proposed retail regulations, similar to models in New York and Colorado, particularly for handling hemp-derived intoxicants. This approach aims to balance safety with competitive market positioning.
  3. The Importance of Industry Feedback to Legislators: Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry called emphatically for input from both hemp and cannabis operators in California. She envisions a robust ecosystem that supports the growth and sustainability of both sectors.


To contact Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, you can visit her contact page here.

On The Horizon: Navigating the Path to Federal Regulation

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and CA DCC Director Nicole Elliott

The next panel of the evening, titled "On The Horizon: Navigating the Path to Federal Regulation," featured insights from Congresswoman Barbara Lee and California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) Director Nicole Elliott. The conversation delved into the future of cannabis regulation at both the state and federal levels. Their discussion illuminated the complexities and strategic moves required to navigate towards a more regulated, equitable, and prosperous cannabis industry.

The dialogue underscored a shared vision for the advancement and legitimization of the cannabis industry, marked by passionate advocacy for legalization and a keen awareness of the operational and regulatory hurdles currently faced by the sector. Nicole Elliott's commitment to elevating authentic California cannabis brands and her efforts to forge legal pathways for interstate commerce reflect a proactive stance towards capitalizing on California's surplus production capacity. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Lee's critique of the proposed rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule III—advocating instead for complete descheduling—highlights a fundamental disagreement with half measures that fail to address the core issues of decriminalization and federal legality.

Key Points from the Discussion:

  • Authentic Branding and Interstate Commerce: Elliott champions the strength of California's cannabis brands and the strategic necessity of creating legal frameworks for interstate commerce (despite the disagreement from the AG), reflecting on initiatives like the "Real California Cannabis" campaign.
  • Regulatory and Licensing Challenges: Acknowledging the inefficiencies within the current regulatory framework, Elliott points to the prohibitive costs and timelines associated with licensing, suggesting reforms to streamline processes and empower the DCC. Elliott said it perfectly when she said, "complexity is the enemy, and CA has a lot of complexity."
  • The Push for Descheduling: Lee's firm stance on the need for descheduling cannabis, rather than merely rescheduling it, underscores a critical approach to achieving true decriminalization and opening federally legal pathways for the industry. In the end, we need to support and push for this incremental change, but our work is not done.
  • Equity and Complexity: The discussion also touched on the complexities of navigating state and federal regulations, emphasizing the importance of simplification, standardization, and the pursuit of equity through initiatives like the RESPECT Act.
  • Political Realities and Calls to Action: The panelists highlighted the political challenges faced by the industry, including the impact of election-year politics on legislative progress. Lee's call to action for voter participation and advocacy underscores the pivotal role of political engagement in shaping the future of cannabis regulation.


The insights shared by Elliott and Lee not only shed light on the current state of cannabis regulation but also chart a course towards a more inclusive, regulated, and thriving industry. Their call for active involvement from industry stakeholders, from submitting comments on proposed regulations to participating in advocacy efforts, emphasizes the collective responsibility in shaping the path to federal regulation. This conversation serves as a rallying cry for unity, action, and continued dialogue among all parties invested in the future of cannabis in California and beyond.

Finally, Congresswoman Lee underscored the pivotal influence of federal leadership on the cannabis industry's future, remarking, "Ask Donald Trump!" as a reflection on bipartisan legislation stalling due to political strategies, despite widespread support for cannabis. Lee passionately advocated for civic participation, emphasizing the critical importance of voting in the primaries on March 5th and again in November, to shape a government responsive to the needs and aspirations of the cannabis community and beyond.

Closing Calls to Action

If you've made it this far, thank you so much for sticking with me. I know this one was a bit longer, but the event really inspired a lot of thought and action. Here are some of my asks:

  1. Make Your Voice Heard on Schedule III: Don't let prohibitionist voices be the only ones the DEA hears. When the opportunity arises, submit your comments in support of rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III (there will be a comment period). This is your chance to tip the scales, counteract groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), and make a real impact. Every voice counts in this crucial numbers game.
  2. Shape the Future of Hemp and Cannabis in California: If you're a operator in the California hemp or cannabis industry, now is the time to speak up. By submitting your comments on AB 2223, you can play a pivotal role in refining and enhancing the state's hemp and cannabis ecosystem. To contact Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, visit her contact page here.
  3. Join Us at NCIA's Lobby Days: Become an active participant in shaping the cannabis industry by getting involved with the National Cannabis Industry Association. We invite you to join us at Lobby Days this May to advocate for the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises within the broader cannabis sector. Learn more here.
  4. Tune into High Spirits for More Insights: Join AnnaRae Grabstein and me as we delve deeper into the world of cannabis regulation with special guests Nicole Elliott and the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) Executive Director, Gillian Schauer, PhD, MPH, on this week's episode of High Spirits (Feb 29, 2024), where we'll explore the intricacies of regulatory engagement and what it means for our industry. RSVP HERE!


Are you participating in a cannabis beverage association?

Are you participating in a cannabis beverage association?

This post originally appeared on Ben's LinkedIn Newsletter, Infused Insights. You can read and leave comments here.

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