U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Signs on as Cosponsor of Marijuana Justice Act

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Signs on as Cosponsor of Marijuana Justice Act

Over the past six months, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, guided by the Cannabis Control Commission, has moved steadily toward the launch of the adult-use cannabis market, scheduled to begin on July 1. The Commission has worked diligently, demonstrating that its members are committed to overseeing a system that is functional, but also protects public health and provides social benefits. This is challenging work – especially when it comes to crafting regulations related to the operations of this new industry.

How, one might ask, does a Commission regulate an industry that is so young that best practices do not really exist yet? Is it advisable to follow the lead of states that have come before them when the usefulness of those other states’ laws and regulations are difficult to determine? How can the Commission members distinguish between effective regulations and those that seem logical but are creating significant inefficiencies?

These are important questions and ones that were the inspiration behind the formation of the Responsible Regulation Alliance (RRA), a Massachusetts-based non-profit dedicated to providing cannabis industry-related guidance to lawmakers, regulators, and other state officials. RRA is supported by a coalition of current and future cannabis industry operators in Massachusetts who are interested in ensuring that the laws and regulations related to the industry are sensible, responsible, and effective. Leaders of the coalition understand and appreciate that as this new industry forms, industry leaders and government officials must work in partnership to advance policies that address the interests of all parties, including consumers.

We believe that RRA’s work is unique in the cannabis field. While it is supported by members of the industry, it is not an “industry association,” a term used for organizations that advocate on behalf of the interests of its members. Of course, that is not to disparage in any way the industry associations that do exist, as they have been a critical part of advancing and protecting the interests of business owners in incredibly challenging circumstance. Like the industry itself, they have come a long way in a short time.

Looking at the cannabis industry today, it is hard to imagine that it didn’t even exist eight short years ago. Sure, there were many medical marijuana collectives up and down the west coast and some state-sanctioned dispensaries forming in other states. But the “industry” truly started in 2010, when Colorado passed a law to allow for-profit medical marijuana businesses to operate and serve tens of thousands of patients in a tightly regulated system.

Not surprisingly, the birth of the industry very quickly gave rise to industry associations. At the state level, we witnessed the formation of organizations like the Medical Marijuana Industry Group (MMIG) and the Cannabis Business Alliance (CBA) in Colorado. These groups were very influential during the early days of medical marijuana legislation and regulation in the state. More recently, you have seen a similar dynamic in California, where the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) and the California Growers Association (CGA) have been key players in the shaping of medical and adult-use cannabis laws in the state. Today, there are state-based cannabis industry associations all across the country.

Launched in November 2017, RRA carves a slightly different advocacy path – one that . In the months that followed our launch, we held weekly meetings with supporting companies and, with their input, crafted and submitted a broad range of recommendations to the Cannabis Control Commission as it prepared its draft and final regulations related to the adult use of cannabis in the state. These recommendations covered a broad range of topics, from the structure of micro-business licenses to testing policies to the labeling of cannabis products. Overall, RRA had a significant and beneficial impact on the process.

RRA’s effectiveness during the regulatory process was based in part on the fact that it does not have the posture of a traditional lobbying effort. Rather, the work product produced by RRA – from memos to draft regulations – served to educate and counsel members of the Commission. Our mission was not to pressure them to accept our recommendations, but to help them understand how the proposals would benefit the state, operators, communities, and consumers.

To further demonstrate our desire to educate and our commitment to transparency, RRA posts on its web site any recommendations it provides to the Commission. We welcome input on our recommendations from other members of the industry as well as from any other stakeholder or interested citizen. In this new industry, there is always more to learn from people with different experiences and different perspectives.

For an organization like RRA to be successful, it must possess the following attributes: knowledge of cannabis industry laws and regulations, a commitment to the long-term success of the industry, and a team that can develop and maintain the trust of state officials. The latter attribute cannot be understated. If you lose the trust of state officials, you might still have a voice in the legislative or regulatory process, but you might not really be heard.

RRA has assembled a team perfectly suited to carry out its mission. On the ground in Massachusetts, Tremont Strategies Group (TSG) provides the RRA with legislative and regulatory monitoring and issue advocacy on all matters related to the cannabis industry. TSG is a Boston-based public affairs and government relations firm that has been working on cannabis issues since the Commonwealth passed Question 3 in 2012, which granted patients access to medical marijuana. The team at TSG has decades of experience working with state and local government officials and has been a consistent voice with the Marijuana Policy Committee and the Commission during the legislative and regulatory process.

The policy-related work of the organization is enhanced by the subject matter expertise and strategic guidance of VS Strategies, LLC, a Colorado-based government relations, issue advocacy, and strategic communications firm dedicated to advancing the cannabis industry in a dynamic yet responsible manner. Team members are specialists in marijuana policy and marijuana advocacy, with an unparalleled track record in this field. Since 2010, VS Strategies team members have been key figures in building and shaping the marijuana regulatory structure in Colorado.

Given RRA’s mission, it is also important to have an advisory board comprised of individuals from companies committed to the advancement of responsible regulations. We were fortunate to have five such companies involved in our work on the initial adult-use regulations in Massachusetts: Bask, Massachusetts Patient Foundation, Mayflower Medicinals, Natural Selections, and Acreage Holdings. Recently, Trichome Health became the sixth member of the RRA Advisory Board. In the coming weeks, we intend to fill the remaining seats on this 10-member board.

The success of the cannabis industry will be largely dependent upon the regulations that govern it. We hope to see more groups like RRA working to ensure that the regulations in states across the country are optimal.

Steve Byrne is a vice president at Tremont Strategies Group and serves as executive director of RRA. Steve Fox is the director of VS Strategies.

Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Published at Thu, 10 May 2018 18:08:28 +0000

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