National Cannabis Festival Policy Summit Underscores a Maturing Industry

By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor, New Frontier Data

On April 19, the second annual National Cannabis Festival Policy Summit convened at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., preceding the unofficial cannabis holiday of 4/20 celebrated the next day during the festival itself, which drew thousands to RFK Stadium.

The summit featured numerous speakers participating in a battery of panel discussions, with a general consensus predicting federal legalization of cannabis in the near future.

Capitol Hill politicians participated to various extents, with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) delivering a keynote address, and videotaped messages provided from Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.). The event drew coverage both on C-SPAN (which recorded it) and Fox News.

“There’s a cross-party coalition on the issue of marijuana prohibition,” Raskin said, noting the like-minded interests of “libertarian Republicans” alongside the participating Democrats seeking to legalize cannabis, especially for medical use.

The conservative Republican and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, was joined by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, and several journalists from The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Reason, and other news organizations also appeared onstage throughout the daylong event.

In the summit’s concluding panel, New Frontier Data’s founder and CEO, Giadha Aguirre de Carcer, joined moderator Liz Crampton of Politico, Kayvan Khalatbari (partner with Denver Relief Consulting), Dr. Chanda Macias (CEO of Women Grow), and Bryan Riley (director of the National Taxpayer Association’s Free Trade Initiative), to discuss “The New Cash Crop: Can America Keep Up on Cannabis?”

Giadha Aguirre de Carcer explained how the U.S. is at risk of ceding first-mover advantages to both its Canadian neighbors to the north and Mexican neighbors to the south as they adopt full, nationwide legalization while the U.S. still debates federal policy and state-by-state consistency.

The panel further discussed how U.S. federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug – the same as heroin – effectively limiting medical research, interstate commerce, and banking. Meanwhile, the United States denies border entry to professionals in the cannabis industry, hindering international trade and the free exchange of ideas by treating cannabis as a banned substance and people in the industry as drug traffickers.

Finally, the experts suggested, the United States would be better served by competing in the global cannabis industry and adopting standards and best practices through a consistent federal approach rather than by an uneven patchwork of state markets and regulations.

Likewise, in light of the 2018 Farm Bill, there is immediate urgency for clarity in federal policy regarding hemp and CBD.

“Hemp and CBD are certainly of great importance when it comes to the global market,” Aguirre de Carcer detailed, “and if the U.S. wants to participate in an active role in both the research and the trade that is occurring outside our borders, hemp and CBD must be looked at.”

John Kagia, New Frontier Data’s chief knowledge officer, led a presentation leading into a panel discussion themed “Staying Green: How Can Regulating the Cannabis Industry Help Protect the Environment?”

He shared findings from New Frontier Data’s forthcoming Global Cannabis Report: 2019 Industry Outlook, including how 263 million cannabis consumers worldwide are collectively spending an estimated $344 billion each year, with the legal market (currently accounting for less than $20 billion) being “the very tip of a very, very large iceberg.”

Brentin Mock, a staff writer at CityLab, moderated a four-member panel with Andrew Black, executive director of Sun+Earth Certified, Dr. Sweta Chakraborty, founder and principal of Adapt to Thrive, Winona LaDuke, founder of Winona’s Hemp, and Dr. Joseph Romm, author and climate-change expert for the Center for American Progress (and one of New Frontier Data’s corporate advisors).

They discussed some specific environmental and land-use regulations to allow for cannabis crop expansion while protecting the environment, along with describing some of the long-term effects of cannabis cultivation on the environment, and provenly successful agricultural practices which may be applied within the cannabis industry.

For example, they noted the environmental risks which commercial cannabis cultivation poses, and how — to deter development of industrial-scale outdoor grows — California law limits the scale of outdoor cannabis cultivation to 1 acre per parcel. However, that legislation presented new, unforeseen challenges by incentivizing more small cannabis grows which wind up being more widely dispersed, thereby raising more issues of forest fragmentation, stream modification or deviation, and soil erosion which can exacerbate negative environmental impacts.

In prefacing his remarks, Kagia also provided the day’s takeaway: “To think that we’re just a couple of blocks away from the Capitol, debating, discussing the future role of America in this emerging global cannabis economy, is a reflection of just how much things have changed in the past few years.”