Highlights from Chamber Confab on Cannabis

 

“A huge industry coming up from the underground!” is how Chamber of Commerce President Mike McDonough described the prospect of cannabis producers and distributors operating in Alameda. The Chamber’s 2017 Business Expo and Conference, held Sept. 20 at the College of Alameda, included representatives from state agencies and cannabis-industry stakeholders. 

The hour-and-a-half conference featured Assemblyman Rob Bonta explaining the complicated state regulations that his staff helped write. He emphasized that the new law, which takes effect Jan. 2, 2018, is “a work in progress” and that the legislature will be fixing flaws as they emerge.

A dual licensing structure will allow local jurisdictions to modify provisions of California law. For example, state law requires a 600-foot buffer zone between cannabis-related businesses and schools, but a city could widen that buffer to 1,000 feet.

Bonta said he expects local cannabis businesses “to employ Alamedans,” sign “labor peace agreements” with unions and pay “the prevailing wage — a living wage.”

McDonough assembled six knowledgeable professionals and invited them to describe their roles in the cannabis industry and join Bonta in fielding questions from the audience. These included: 

• Neil Hall of SCI Consulting, the consultant who drafted the ordinance that the City Council will consider in the months ahead.
• Max Mikalonis, a policy analyst and member of Bonta’s staff. He is the primary author of the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act.
• Don Land, chief scientific consultant at Steep Hill Lab in Berkeley, a cannabis science and technology company that hopes to do business in Alameda.  
• Jim Nelson, president of New Growth Insurance Company, which began writing policies for cannabis businesses in Washington State and Oregon several years ago. The company now focuses entirely on what it calls “cannabiz.”
• Josh Drayton deputy director of the 375-member California Cannabis Industry Association, a lobbying group based in Sacramento. 
• Ben Larson of Gateway Incubator, which provides funding and mentorship for cannabis start-ups. 

Mikalonis asked that the state and local governments don’t overregulate the industry. He told the audience that he is confident that regulations devised by the state will prove workable and acceptable in most localities.

“Leading companies will want to locate their national headquarters in California because it’s the biggest market,” Larson said. He suggested that Alameda Point could become the industry’s epicenter.

Several speakers called for dispensaries allowing “on-site consumption” of cannabis. “Tenants need a place to use cannabis without fear of eviction,” said Rich Moskowitz of Alamedans for Safe Access. Mikalonis strongly agreed.

Drayton said his most effective tactic as a lobbyist is to bring regulators to visit model cannabis enterprises. “Tax reasonably,” he advised state and local governments. “Overtaxing will drive people into the illegal market.” 

Land acknowledged that cannabis growers use a lot of pesticide. “Labs are well-suited to promote quality control by cultivators because we are partners of the regulators and also partners of the producers,” he said.  

One speaker said that regulating cannabis doesn’t go far enough. She told the audience that she hoped to see the state release those currently sitting in prison for marijuana possession. Land agreed. He added that there should be a review of cases in which Child Protective Services took children away from cannabis-using parents.

“Let’s stick to the subject of business,” McDonough said. “The Chamber of Commerce is about business.” 

The city will host a meeting to discuss regulation of cannabis in Alameda on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Ave.