Last summer, outside the White House, David Bronner — CEO of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps — locked himself in a cage along with several cannabis plants that he used to make hemp oil on the spot. Above the cage stood a poster of President Obama next to a field of cannabis plants. The sign read, in all caps, "Dear Mr. President, let US farmers grow hemp!"
Dr. Bronner's openly uses hemp oil in all of their soaps, and Bronner is a board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, working to legitimize the commercial cannabis industry. Bronner's stunt notwithstanding, the association usually prefers to use standard lobbying tactics rather than orchestrating acts of civil disobedience.
By using the vocabulary of Washington power brokers, NCIA appeals to lawmakers in terms they can understand. And the trade group has chosen Boston for the site of their Northeast "cannabusiness" symposium on March 16, an event sponsored in part by the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Association — a new local trade group headed by Shaleen Title, a lawyer working for the Colorado-based firm, Vicente Sederberg.
Members of NCIA represent marijuana businesses across the country, from dispensaries to edibles companies, law firms to hydro supply stores. But even in states like Colorado, where marijuana is legal for adult recreational use, cannabis professionals face widespread financial challenges exclusive to their industry.
"We have a situation now where essentially anybody who sells cannabis, who's honest with their bank, has challenges," says Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA, addressing a crowded ballroom reserved for Vicente Sederberg's third Massachusetts medical marijuana seminar. "Not just accepting credit cards . . . but just being able to put that money in a checking account and know that it's not going to be closed in two weeks."
NCIA is lobbying Congress and the Department of the Treasury to regulate cannabis like other businesses, specifically aiming for tax reform and amendment of the Bank Secrecy Act, which Smith explains is being used to deter financial institutions from working with state-legal marijuana businesses.
"In Washington, for example, they're saying this is a billion-dollar-a-year industry," Smith says. "We don't want that money outside the financial system — that doesn't serve anybody's interest."
Still, NCIA shows a vested interest in the fate of Massachusetts's marijuana laws. And this forward-thinking sentiment is shared by out-of-state marijuana business owners, like Jamie Lewis of Denver-based Mountain Medicine and Good Chemistry, and Tripp Keber, founder of Dixie Elixirs, a Colorado-based edibles (and drinkables) company.
In January, WBUR reported Keber's plans for expansion into Massachusetts, and Lewis shared her intentions of starting a local business during last month's medical marijuana listening session held by the Department of Public Health in Roxbury.
Keber is scheduled to speak at the NCIA symposium as part of an afternoon panel focusing on dispensary, cultivation, and infused-product operation. An earlier panel featuring Massachusetts's own Title will focus on government relations and regulatory models, but striking even closer to the core of NCIA's values will be a keynote presentation on marijuana market data.