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Report from Wine & Weed Central Coast

Lots to Fear in Nascent Cannabis Industry, But Hope for Collaborative Future


There will always be more questions than answers surrounding the cannabis industry so long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But the Wine & Weed Symposium - Central Coast provided at least flashes of clarity for the more than 200 attendees at San Luis Obispo’s Embassy Suites on Thursday, May 10.

What’s clear is that the rules are constantly changing and vary widely from town to town — but if you plan on mixing your wine business with weed, you’d better step very carefully, as that crossover territory remains either illegal or, at best, extremely murky.

The one-day event began with an overview of cannabis in California, featuring Hezekiah Allen of the California Growers Association and Aaron Smith of the National Cannabis Industry Association. After opining that marijuana should be considered an “agricultural medicine, not a pharmaceutical medicine,” Allen outlined his organization’s efforts: the establishment of marijuana-growing appellations, like what’s done in wine, will happen by 2021; the fight to allow growers to sell directly to consumers, rather than only through licensed retailers; and, in what became a common issue throughout the day, tax reform.

Based on the state’s initial, and overly ambitious, tax projections — they projected more than $80 million for the first quarter of 2018, but only $34 million came in — Allen explained, “We are underperforming every other state that’s ever done this.” That means the black market is thriving, with eight times more cannabis being exported to the Midwest and East Coast than what is consumed in California.

Representing 1,500 cannabis businesses across the country, with members in all 50 states, Smith said the NCIA’s goal is “to exert our collective influence to change federal laws.” He discussed an upcoming bipartisan bill — proposed by Senator Cory Gardner, apparently supported by President Donald Trump, at least in private — that will give legal-marijuana states more clarity to operate while “not shoving legalization down the throat” of states that don’t want it.

Senator Chuck Schumer is also introducing a bill to “deschedule” marijuana, removing cannabis entirely from the list of regulated drugs. But Smith said there will be pushback against that, even from within the cannabis industry, where some major players would prefer to see marijuana rescheduled to a Schedule 3 drug, like opioids. “That would pharmaceuticalize the product,” said Smith, who, like most in the room, did not think that would be good idea.

In responding to a question from the crowd about hemp versus cannabis, Allen replied, “I love cannabis, but hemp is going to change California….Hemp can do everything an almond can,” he explained, but the turnaround is 90 days for the first hemp crop versus 11 years for almonds.

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