Marijuana Business Magazine April 2020

Marijuana Business Magazine | April 2020 70 The Big Picture Cannabis trade associations’ most important priority is political representation to telegraph industry interests to state and federal lawmakers as well as regulators, said Sabrina Fendrick, chief public affairs officer with California-based Berkeley Patients Group, a medical cannabis dispensary established in 1999. This is because the cannabis industry has needs and challenges that are distinct from other industries—think access to banking services and federal prohibition, among other issues—so government officials often require a significant amount of education. “Cannabis is a unique policy issue, in that it was born out of grassroots activism and evolved into an industry,” Fendrick said. It has “very unique political challenges, because it’s dealing with issues of federal prohibition and state-by-state reform and public opinion. … Associations show their statewide elected lawmakers … that they are a growing economic force they need to pay attention to.” At both the national and state levels, for example, cannabis trade associations have been able to sway legislators and influence public opinion. “Since 2014, we’ve been successful in fighting for the inclusion of language in annual appropriations bills that prevent the Department of Justice from using its resources to interfere in state medical cannabis programs,” said Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Most recently, NCIA was instrumental in the historic passage of the SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Fendrick points to Florida as an example of similar accomplishment at the state level. “The Tallahassee-based Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida is one of the oldest and most highly networked industry groups in the state,” she said. “There’s lots of good examples,” she added. “Florida has some really conservative Republican lawmakers that one would never expect to take a position on cannabis. … But because there’s such a strong, influential industry down there, you’re seeing people that, historically, you would never see come over to this side.” Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, for example, filed a bill in January to legalize adult-use marijuana in Florida. And in the U.S. Congress, two Florida House Republicans  co-sponsored the SAFE Act, Fendrick noted. – Celene Adams Further, he adds, “I would posit that all these groups … compete for the same type of attention from the industry, which translates into dollars and support.” TomHoward, a Chicago-based attorney whose firm, Collateral Base, specializes in cannabis industry issues, said there are ramifications to joining an association that is either not aligned with your business goals or misrepresents itself in terms of its legal business status. Other considerations include how much industry experience board members have and how the organization is structured. “Who’s on the board, who’s on the subcommittees? What’s the point of those committees? And what are the association bylaws?” Howard said, adding that while it might not seem like the latter will affect you, having official bylaws and policies in place ensures the organization has procedures to keep it operating fairly, ethically and efficiently. “Check the mission statement or first principles of the organization and go all the way up to the bylaws to see if those ideals hold true or not,” he said. Further, ask whether you must pay for board membership and, if so, what you’re getting out of it. “If you’re going to be paying to play,” he said, “well, what am I paying for? How much of an audience am I reaching through your network?” Other industry executives advise checking an association’s reputation and testing its customer service: • Does the association have positive reviews? Are they recent? • Are there errors in the content posted on its website? • Is the chat feature on the website useful? Is calling the customer service line an efficient, effective process? TIME AND MONEY Trade associations don’t require active membership, but most members say the value they derive largely depends on participation. So, before joining, it’s a good idea to decide how much time you have to participate in subcommittees, write white papers, lobby on behalf of the group or simply attend the association’s social events. “Passive membership is OK and is needed,” Fendrick said. “But if there is an issue that a company or individual is really passionate about, I think that (making) sure that concern or that message is relayed properly and articulated to the leadership requires some additional engagement.” Deciding how much you can afford in terms of fees is also prudent. Not everyone can afford to pay to play, said Brian Farmer, co-founder/director of certification services with the Cannabis Conservancy, which certifies marijuana producers’ sustainability practices and provides educational workshops through the NCIA and a variety of small- to medium-sized co-ops and cultivator associations. “One of the things I’ve seen is that, typically, trade associations get set up, and the barrier to entry is so high in terms of what they want to charge their members that they’re not actually able to grow.” Thomas Howard Courtesy Photo Tools of the Trade