As I look back at the last four years of cannabis legalization it is easy to forget how far we have come. I have been to nearly every legal cannabis market in the country (including Amsterdam last year), and I can say with great confidence that from a consumer standpoint nobody does retail cannabis as well as Washington State. There is not even a distant second.
While the paradigm of oversupply makes things difficult on producers and processors, the natural byproduct of this (particularly in a system with no vertical integration) is an incredible variety of products for consumers to pick from. In a fight for space on a retailer’s shelves, you will invariably see quality go up, and prices come down. Moreover, with so many retail stores fighting for a finite pool of customers, the stores need to focus on customer service and experience if they are to retain market share. All of this makes Washington a virtual utopia when it comes to shopping for cannabis.
That being said, it is perplexing that Washington State seems to get lost in the national conversation around cannabis legalization and the legal cannabis industry. With this in mind, I was excited by the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. this month as part of a joint lobbying effort organized by WACA2 and attended by approximately 30 industry stakeholders including CORE members, WACA members, Tribal leaders, LCB leadership, Cannabis regulators from Alaska, the CEO of Salal Credit Union, and Senator Ann Rivers.
The purpose of this trip (which was the second annual trip of this nature) was to meet with lawmakers in order to discuss issues that are important to the ongoing development of our industry. We were able to meet with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Congressman Blumenauer of Oregon (who has been a champion of cannabis legalization since he took public office), Congressman Young of Alaska, Senator Warren of Massachusetts, and Senators Cantwell and Murray of Washington State.
Each of these lawmakers were very well versed in many of the hurdles and challenges our industry is facing. Each were likewise well aware that the business of cannabis is a driver of both tax revenue and employment, and all agreed that the parade of horribles described by detractors of retail or medical cannabis have never materialized in those States which have legalized.
One of the narratives shared by our group was the lack of conventional banking channels, and the concern of stakeholders over the rescission of the Cole memorandum which served to muddy the waters of an already murky banking situation. While lawmakers were sympathetic to the instability created by the current administration, none were confident of any immediate clarity or relief. In fact, while we were in D.C. it was unclear whether or not the protections for medical cannabis afforded by the Rohrabacher amendment would even be extended (they were, but without the addition of language which would have similarly protected retail cannabis from Federal prosecution).
The most discouraging meeting was with Congressman Reichert’s staff. Congressman Reichert (who is retiring) has been a critic of cannabis legalization, and from a policy standpoint his office equated the argument that it creates tax revenue and jobs, with the rejoinder that legalizing heroin would similarly create tax revenue.
While it is extremely helpful to understand the mindset of an opponent, it is likewise difficult to envision a path forward with lawmakers who honestly share this opinion. Clearly cannabis is nothing like heroin, and it is incumbent upon us to educate those who believe it is.
On the whole, my experience in the “other Washington” was informative and inspiring. I like to tell my coworkers that we are each agents of change, and that the eyes of the world are upon us. Being able to take part in discussion with lawmakers about our industry, alongside other thought-leaders in this space was an honor that is not lost on me. Washington State has much to be proud of. We are the highest regulated, highest taxed, legal cannabis industry in the world, and at the same time consumers are afforded best retail cannabis experience to be had. Washington State has collected over a billion dollars in tax revenue, violent crime is down, and underage usage has not gone up (even dropping in some areas).
Those of us in this industry need to continue to galvanize around those issues that will help all of us: access to banking, the elimination of unfair tax treatment (IRS tax code 280(e)), enhanced penalties for crimes committed against I502 business, and the rescheduling of cannabis (just to name a few). What became clear to me in D.C. is that each of us needs to be a good steward of this industry for change to take place, and as we met with lawmakers I could not avoid thinking about the old adage that when it comes to lawmaking “if you are not sitting at the table you are probably on the menu.” So, get out there and get involved with cannabis legalization and reform. We are all on this amazing journey together, let’s be the tide that raises all the boats.
Written by: Eric Gaston
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