High Country: Legalization lessons learned from Arcview’s Colorado Town Hall
The top minds in Colorado cannabis examine the state of the state as the country teeters on the cusp of federal legislation.
In what was a monumental week in weed history, three more states moved to legalize adult-use cannabis as March turned to April. Last Wednesday, New York became the 16th state to make recreational cannabis legal for adults 21 and over, while Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called for lawmakers to amend legislation to expedite legalization and New Mexico advanced adult-use marijuana market legislation to the governor’s desk.
In between breaking news alerts, The Arcview Group, a leading investment network and market research firm servicing the cannabis industry, presented its annual Colorado Town Hall. Unintentionally timed to such progress, it examined how the first state to legalize cannabis has fared over the past seven years as the country teeters on the cusp of federal legalization.
“New York’s passing of adult-use cannabis marks a major turning point in the coast-to-coast reform of cannabis prohibition,” Kim Kovacs, CEO of The Arcview Group, shared with me via email post-event. “We’re looking forward to New York incorporating best practices and lessons learned from states that did it first, including Colorado.”
The Arcview Group, host of the Aspen High Summit in 2017 and 2018, welcomed Gov. Jared Polis for opening remarks (via a last minute recording while he attended the memorial service for Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley), who introduced a panel of Colorado’s earliest entrepreneurs: Ean Seeb, (Special Advisor on Cannabis to the Governor), Nancy Whiteman (CEO, Wana Brands), Peter Barsoom (CEO, 1906), Wanda James (CEO, Simply Pure), Diane and Jay Czarkowski (co-founders, Canna Advisors) and Brandon Banks (board member, Natural Selections). The virtual event answered participant questions live over the course of a 60-minute session.
As legalization spreads — bills that would legalize cannabis are also being seriously considered in Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island — Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is vowing to move forward with legislation to federally legalize marijuana, “even if President Biden resists such a move,” The Hill recently reported. Here are four key findings from the top minds in Colorado cannabis, each sharing invaluable lessons newly legal states can learn.
Q: What role would you like to see the federal government play for the industry?
A: “It took Colorado 11 years to be able to establish any kind of social equity guidelines which, quite frankly, left very little room for anybody black or brown to get into this industry. We are a mature market, so what I really look forward to seeing as this moves forward is the idea of direct banking (and) the SBA (Small Business Administration) actually being involved, because the hardest thing for a black or brown entrepreneur, and not just in cannabis, but in anything that we do, is being able to find capital. When you look at things like systemic racism, our businesses are not valued the same as who I’m competing with — the 25-year-old white guy that just came up with an idea that somebody decided to give $25 million to. And yet, an organization such as mine is not seen as valuable. Banking should be able to give me the line of credit that (I deserve) to be able to grow my business, instead of having some predatory financier wanting 20% of my company for a $100,000 loan. I’m really looking forward to the possibilities to see where black- and brown-(owned) or women- and veteran-led businesses can go once we are able to level the playing field. But we have to be able to have more access to capital.” — Wanda James, CEO, Simply Pure, simplypure.com
Q: What does the cannabis consumer look like after seven years of recreational cannabis?
A: “We started 1906 because we believe that there’s a large and growing segment of adult consumers who are looking for alternatives to alcohol and pharmaceuticals — where it’s not about getting high and it’s not about smoking. It’s just about improving your daily life and managing (its) demands through cannabis, so I think one of the things that’s important to recognize is that there is no such thing as a cannabis consumer right now. People who consume cannabis run the gamut from 95-year-old grandmothers to children with epilepsy to folks who are dealing with pain or have trouble sleeping. What has evolved, is this notion of ‘the stoner.’ It’s no longer relevant and (now) we’re seeing cannabis as a widely accepted plant medicine, just like it was before (the year) 1906 when prohibition truly started.” — Peter Barsoom, CEO, 1906, 1906newhighs.com
Q: As operators, how would you suggest establishing a national footprint and brand after building a foundation in Colorado?
A: “We currently operate in 12 markets. And to oversimplify it, there’s two paths [and] there’s many variations of these paths. As an operator, you can strike partnerships in other markets with people who are license-holders and operate under their licenses — essentially using some form of a licensing agreement to license your brand. Or you can go market-by-market, get your own license and build out your own facilities [and operations] within each market. What happens in today’s environment [is that] every time we go into a new market, we essentially have to start over because every state has its own regulations — everything from the (THC warning) symbol to packaging to labeling to dosage, which means that there is no practical way for a brand or manufacturer to achieve anything that approximates national scale, because we have to go state-by-state. I would like to see the federal government standardize around these guidelines — (that) would enable us to operate much more efficiently. And let’s not forget interstate commerce — that’s going to be key (so we can start) to source biomass from states where it’s able to grow outdoors and set up transport across state lines.” — Nancy Whiteman, CEO, Wana Brands, wanabrands.com
Q: What should investors look for in a brand new market?
A: “Banking. It’s one of our main priorities here in Colorado as it relates to cannabis businesses, so we’ve not only permitted, but we’ve encouraged state-chartered banks and financial institutions to provide banking services. We’re getting ready to host a series of bi-weekly town halls with stakeholders and insurance groups and really are going to be digging into what types of services can be available. Most licensees in Colorado do have depository services, but that’s all that they have, and it’s one thing to be able to deposit your cash — it’s another thing to be able to have all the other services that are available (to other industries) like life insurance, mortgages and loans. So we’re trying here in Colorado, we’re proactively engaging on the state level, but again, we really need to see some federal action. The hope is that 2021 will be the year where we see cannabis banking once and for all at the federal level.” — Ean Seeb, Special Advisor on Cannabis to Gov. Jared Polis, colorado.gov/governor
Editor’s note: The above excerpts have been edited for clarity.
Tune In: To view Arcview’s complimentary Colorado Town Hall in full (plus, additional “Arcview April Takeover” 10-year anniversary content all month), visit arcviewgroup.com/replays.
420 HIGH HOLIDAY DINNER
As part of a new, ongoing series of special events, The Pullman in Glenwood Springs is paying homage to 420 with an official “High Holiday Dinner.” Chef John Little and the team will feature six gourmet courses inspired by “the attack of the munchies” and paired with libations. While certain laws and regulatory authorities frown on the use of cannabis in restaurants, The Pullman will not be serving any infused dishes or allow consumption on site. Rather, guests are encouraged to get high at home beforehand and have a designated driver.
Tuesday, April 20, 7 p.m., $75 per person (advance reservation required)
330 Seventh St., Glenwood Springs 970-230-9234, thepullmangws.com
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Inside Inmam Family Wines in the Russian River AVA.