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Chamber Of Cannabis Seeks To Usher In Diversity And Consumption Lounges

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Associated Press

Every city has a chamber of commerce. But very few of them have one dedicated solely to marijuana.

The Chamber of Cannabis was formed late last year in Las Vegas to support the marijuana industry, which has grown at a massive rate since Nevada legalized the drug in 2017. 

The group seeks to address certain issues, including ushering in social consumption lounges, justice for previous marijuana convictions and reforming DUI laws. 

And they’re especially interested in making high-ranking positions in the industry more accessible for people of color and women. 

Tina Ulman, president of the Chamber of Cannabis, became part of the industry two and half years ago, which is when she realized that many of the laws governing marijuana hadn't changed since it was legalized.

"Overall, I wasn't happy with the trajectory of the cannabis industry, and I knew we needed to build a coalition of passionate professionals who were willing to put the work in and execute solutions."

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Some of the solutions include altering laws that still surround the industry — "starting with making sure that nobody was in prison for a non-violent cannabis offense or had a record," she said. "So, first and foremost, the decriminalization part should have changed."

Ulman also wants to see changes to medical marijuana patient rights and to laws that allow a neighbor to call Child Protective Services on a parent using marijuana.

Ulman's group is also working to diversify the industry. 

Right now, non-white ownership of a marijuana business is 35 percent, but they make up 48 percent of the state’s population, and 72 percent of owners are men; women are about 50 percent of Nevada’s population. 

Ulman said there are several reasons for the inequity, especially the way by which ownership acquires a license. 

"It was because the licensing process was not fair, inclusive and transparent, and when that took place, a lot of folks were left out."

Another barrier to entry into the industry was the large amount of cash that was required by the state to begin a business. Ulman said coming up with the $250,000 to start a cannabis business was especially difficult for people who had been selling marijuana before it was legalized.

She added that the first step to bridging that gap is to make sure state regulators and lawmakers understand and know the statistics. The next step is coming up with solutions.

"Number one, making sure there is no barrier to entry with a specific amount of liquid cash that you may need to have," she said. "Number two, creating a fund to help social equity applicants get into the industry and have the capital to back their businesses." 

Right now, cannabis businesses are cash only and most banks don't lend to them, which makes it extremely difficult for a would-be business owner who is not already wealthy.

Ulman said there are other out-of-the-box solutions that could work to build diversity, like partnering with owners who already have a marijuana license with someone from an under-represented group looking to get into the industry to create a new business together.

She said that while there is a lot of diversity among dispensary workers and middle management of cannabis businesses, elsewhere it's a different story.

"Where we're lacking is the board of directors and owners and operators."

Ulman does note that the cannabis industry has a much better opportunity to overcome some of those old barriers to women and people of color because it is so new and many of the rules about how to operate businesses haven't been written yet.

Besides diversifying the industry, another item on the Chamber of Cannabis' agenda is consumption lounges. 

Scot Rutledge of Argentum Partners is the legislative advisor for the chamber. He was also part of the effort to legalize marijuana. 

He said the people backing the ballot initiative to legalize cannabis didn't include language about public consumption in the initiative because at that point there was no good model of how to do it.

Now, several years into legalized marijuana sales in Nevada, he believes the Legislature will take up a bill to address the issue this session.

As it stands, you are only allowed to consume marijuana in your home, which leaves tourists able to buy it but nowhere to use it, Rutledge said.

"That's our public policy on: 'Where can I consume cannabis? Not here.'" 

Rutledge said the Nevada Law Journal Forum did a deep dive into the issue of public consumption of cannabis, calling it the "elephant in Nevada's hotel rooms." 

What came out of that analysis, he said, was "we need to have a regulated policy for social consumption. I think that is the obvious thing. I think the harder thing is: What does it look like?"

Rutledge would like to see two types of licenses for consumption businesses. The first type of license would be for cannabis retailers that also want to allow consumption of products on their premises.

The second type would be establishments, be they bars, restaurants or clubs, that allow for cannabis to be brought in from outside or delivered to the premises. 

"Quite frankly, there needs to be enough of these businesses out there for our tourists especially, but even our locals," he said. Parents may want to consume marijuana but not when they're home with their children. There is also the problem of rental properties. Many landlords still have provisions in leases prohibiting marijuana consumption.

"A lot of folks do not want to consume at home."

Guests

Tina Ulman, president, Chamber of Cannabis; Scot Rutledge, partner, Argentum Partners.

 

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