Prohibition Partners LIVE – Day Two Review: Policy & Reform

Prohibition Partners LIVE - Day Two Review: Policy & Reform

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OVER the next three days, Prohibition Partners LIVE features a packed programme of discussion and debate featuring some of the global cannabis industry’s most informed leaders and opinion-makers. 

With more than 1,500 people attending Day 2 of Prohibition Partners LIVE, CEO and co-founder Stephen Murphy welcomed everyone to the event, the focus of which was Policy and Reform.

This, he said, would take in everything from the future of the industry to EU regulations and guidance, what this would mean for the UK where “the previous hot potato that cannabis was in a political sense is no longer there,” to potentially uncomfortable conversations about lack of diversity and social equality, sustainability, and the possible end of prohibition, which Stephen joked could mean “we will have to change our name!”.

Ahead of the main schedule Stephen Murphy joined fellow Prohibition Partners’ team members; Event & Programme Director Matt Freemantle and Jon Hogg, Managing Director, for a session entitled Cannabis Europa 2021 - The Return of Events which highlighted the strides bing made in the global vaccination programmes as a creating a pathway for the return of physical cannabis conferences later this year and into next.

With Wednesday’s emphasis on policy and reform, the first session on the Cannabis Europa stage was aptly entitled The Medical Cannabis Conundrum in Europe, which saw moderator Alfredo Pascual (vice president of investment analysis at Fast Forward Innovations), Tjalling Erkelens (CEO and chairman of Bedrocan) and Alex Agius Saliba (MEP for Malta), looking at the opportunities and challenges facing producers, suppliers and distributors alike with progressive legislation on the horizon and demand for cannabis-based products rising across the Continent.

Mr Erkelens said the medical and recreational markets should be separated. “What cannot happen to my mind is that we have a situation where outlets for recreational types of products are now being used by patients to get access to a product that they really are in need of. 

“That separation is a very important thing. I would encourage the industry in general to go for that separation. If you bet on one horse, you cannot bet on two horses in that regard. Don’t do it, it doesn’t work.”

Mr Saliba said the lack of consistency and confusion at EU level was putting hurdles in the way of industry when it comes to a prescribed product, but added that in regard to CBD products for fitness and medical reasons “we basically have an open door policy in the EU. I have nothing against these products, but at the same time it shows that when you treat the subject in an uncoordinated way, when you continue to treat medicine and cannabis as a taboo, you end up with all these problems and all these issues.

“I think when it comes to these products there needs to be a standard to continue to protect consumers and patients, not to bar them from having access, but ultimately to study more, to research more, to have correct standards, and always to have the best protection for our users, patients and consumers.”

The Cannabis Europa platform then played host to Political Correctness: How Can the UK Government Get Things Right?, a wide-ranging discussion between moderator Professor David Nutt (former chief drugs advisor to the UK government), Labour MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, and Conservative MP, Dr Daniel Poulter.

With attitudes across the UK changing towards cannabis, the three chatted about the country’s inaction towards medically prescribed access with only three NHS related prescriptions having been issued since the law was changed in November 2018. 

Ms Antoniazzi said her interest in medical cannabis had been sparked as a good friend of hers lives with multiple sclerosis. “It touches me, and it touches me in a way that brings me to tears,” she told her fellow panel.

“I don’t have a medical background, but I see first-hand. I’m the co-chair of the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) for Medical Cannabis Under Prescription, and that has been a battle, a battle we thought we had won in November 2018, but we haven’t and we are still working to get the medical cannabis to the children with intractable epilepsy who come under the banner of End Our Pain. But I know there are thousands and thousands of people who would benefit from medical cannabis. 

“I am coming at it from a place of sense, love, friendship and wanting to make a difference in Parliament because to me and the lay person on the street, it just doesn’t make sense that we are not getting it to the people who need it the most.”

Dr Poulter, who is a psychiatrist and former Government health minister, said: “We have to some extent changed, but we are grappling to deliver further change…. We have a whole raft of patients that we need to support better with better medications and cannabis is, in my view, a very big part of that.”

On the overall attitude of MPs currently, Ms Antoniazzi said: “Cross party, the willingness to change, the ability to change, the regulatory side of things, there is a massive, massive stumbling block, and we are really working hard to identify the stumbling block. I’ve had really positive conversations…and you think ‘Oh, we’ll get there,’ but it does get a little bit like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. 

“But we are trailblazers and we are trying to break through that brick wall, and I think with people like Dan (Poulter) on board, we will get there.”

Following a short networking break, The Future of Social Equity and Social Justice in Europe, took to the Cannabis Europa stage with moderator Sunny Hundal (a journalist on The Guardian and Independent) and Al Harrington (CEO of Viola), Niamh Eastwood (executive director of Release), Aras Azadian (CEO Avicanna), and Cyrus Engerer (MEP for Malta) looking at what Europe can learn from the promising steps that have been taken in North America.

The panel explored how a legal market across Europe could look with a socially focused approach to cannabis. 

Ms Eastwood said the discussion was timely with it being 50 years since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in the UK. She said her charity had in 2019 produced a report that showed that “in terms of drug law enforcement, it is very much focused on cannabis possession offences. It is estimated that one in three police stop and searches are for cannabis and it disproportionately impacts on black communities in the UK, with black people nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs, 11 times more likely to be prosecuted for cannabis possession offences, and this is despite the fact that drug use amongst the black community is much lower than the white population.

“This is really about how the drug laws have been used as a form of social and racial control and we really need to start having conversations about what solutions look like, solutions that are very much premised in repairing those harms of drug policy reform, and there is a lot of learning at the minute from the US.”

Her three solutions were making sure people who have been criminalized for activities within the market, are released from prison and their record expunged, secondly that decriminalization of cannabis possession offences is married within the system of cannabis regulation, and finally ensuring people who have the skills, the resources and the opportunities can participate in the market.

Mr Harrington said the UK and Europe can learn from the US. “One of the things we have done here in the United States is education around these licenses and how to operate them, and also the resources around them. You have people who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs - they come from communities where they never really had any opportunities or outlets - and you say, here’s a licence, you need a couple of million dollars to be able to stand up the business.”

Mr Engerer said Europe was unfortunately not headed in a coordinated direction with each member state adopting different policies. He said his Labour party in Malta was delving into the different options and proposing legalisation. “I think there are two routes you can go. One is the American, maybe the Dutch route, which we have seen in the commercialisation of cannabis buying, or else the route that Spain has taken and which we have also seen in South America in Uruguay, for instance, where you get cannabis social clubs. 

“What I am advocating the government to do is invest in what I would call cannabis social enterprises, because at the end of the day it is an entrepreneurial way of doing things.”

Mr Azadian said a lot could be learnt from the Canadian Federal model. “We can treat this as a new industry; a blank slate. If we do things properly we can provide equal opportunity, whether that is in the form of funds that are put together to develop and help entrepreneurs that are coming from more diverse backgrounds, or whether that is education programmes.”

Over on the Cannabis Americana stage at 4pm, Of Growing Importance: Is Sustainability the Cornerstone of a Successful Cannabis Business? looked at what growers can learn from the mistakes and successes of the agricultural industry, and the importance of adopting a sustainable model.

Moderator Barbara Pastori (consulting director at Prohibition Partners), Carlos Perea (CEO and co-founder of Terra Vera), Shawn Cooney (partner at Corner Stalk farm), and Derek Smith (executive director of the Resource Innovation Institute) took part in the debate.

Mr Smith said: “Everybody wants to have a good reputation, everybody wants to perform well on environmental issues, everybody wants to make claims, everybody sees the trends on ESG, everybody wants access to those funds. But at the end of the day, what it all comes down to is the G in ESG. We talk a lot about environment and social issues, but we don’t focus as much on governance.”

Mr Perea commented: “What we need to introduce is not just governance, not just data, not just regulation, but the profit motive. The reason a lot of cultivators grow indoors are historical in nature. They believe they can grow a better product indoors under supplemental lighting in a greenhouse, and the reality is that with the right practices, they can move to mostly sun ground, preserve the quality, and get much better profitability.”

Mr Cooney added: “I think in the end what is going to drive it is what makes most sense for your region, and if you look at what is going on in agriculture right now, there is a growth in both greenhouse and indoor agriculture because of market demands. 

“Market demands are saying we would like to have a sustainable agricultural industry, and part of that is some of what you grow needs to come from some region that is very close to you physically. If that wasn’t the case everything would be grown in California and Arizona and Florida. But that’s not the case from consumer demand. I think for a healthy agricultural industry and a healthy cannabis industry you have to be able to grow in the facility, and type of facility, that makes the most sense.”

Following another networking break, Legal v Illegal: Are We Approaching the End of Prohibition, was the topic being discussed on the Cannabis Americana stage and moderated by Yeji Jesse Lee (a journalist with Business Insider).

New York has become the latest big name state to legalise adult-use cannabis and with the Democrats in the White House, federal legislation change seems closer than ever. The possible end of the US’s illicit cannabis market and how the authorities should be preparing, were just two of the areas covered in the 45 minute debate by the distinguished panel.

Emily Galvin Almanzo (founder and co-executive director of Partners for Justice), said: “It is important for employment and economic reasons to create a pathway for illicit business owners to move into the regulated market….what barriers of entry do we need to remove for people who have had a criminal record?”

Shaleen Title (distinguished practitioner in residence at the Ohio State University College of Law Drug Enforcement and Policy), said: “There is a need to focus on public safety and public health with a close co-ordination between regulators and law enforcement.”

Kelly McMillin (chief compliance officer at Lowell Farms), said: “This is not a return to the war on drugs but still need to be enforcement in unregulated market to protect those businesses operating legally…those not complying with the onerous and expensive licensing rules; (however) we have to find way of breaking those entry barriers down.”

As New York looks to its own recreational programme Axel Bernabe (assistant council to New York State Governor Cuomo), said: “It’s early days but key is looking at legislation and how other states moved out of illicit market with a focus on a strong public health agenda.”

More than 300,000 jobs have been created across the cannabis industry and provided a much needed economic boost across those regions which have already embraced legalisation. The Big Cannabis Job Boom on the Cannabis Americana platform looked at whether the plant could provide a new wave of careers in the US.

Discussing the issue were moderator Andrew Ward, a journalist and author at High Times, Christine De La Rosa MA, CEO and co-founder at The People’s Dispensary, and Coree Schmitz, chief of staff at Vangst.

Referring to the coronavirus pandemic which has hit the cannabis industry the same as other sectors with lockdowns and social distancing, Ms Schmitz said: “The cannabis industry is forever innovating. A lot of the new technologies, the automation, the things you can do in cultivations now, are untouchable processes compared to what I saw five years ago, so it will be very cool to see the industry using remote working…. in stronger ways than we did prior to the pandemic.”

Changes in legislation in the States is set to open up a new jobs market. Ms Rosa explained: “I think everywhere you look there is going to be possibility. The biggest issue in the job market today is how to do the workforce development and be able to fill those positions…..when we were just starting out in California and Oregon and I’m sure Colorado, there was a big emphasis on the bud tenders, the procurement officers, the people in the retail shops, but now I am seeing that there is a shortage of the people that can do the cultivation, which is literally the only way that retail works, and the manufacturing and the distribution, and those are not specialised, but it requires training….and I think this is where we are going to see a choke hole in 2021 and 2022, especially if companies don’t understand right away that what we are going to need is more than just a bud tender.”

The Other Side of the Glass Ceiling: Female Business Leaders in Cannabis, rounded off Day Two on the Cannabis Americana platform. The live roundtable discussion saw Kyra Reed (founder of Women Empowered in Cannabis), Hope wiseman (CEO of Mary and Main), Chelsey Joseph (CEO of WHT LBL), Anna Kaplan (co-founder and CEO of Sugartop Buddery), Jane West (CEO of Jane West) and Dawn Fable (head of Pause Lifestyle Brands at Tenacious Labs) discuss the finer points of an age-old challenge facing women in the workplace.

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